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Status change during adulthood: life–history by–product or kin selection based on reproductive value?

Stephanie L. Combes, Jeanne Altmann


When dominance status predicts fitness, most adaptive models of dominance relationships among cercopithecine primate females predict lifetime maintenance of status. These models and alternative ones positing rank decline as a non–adaptive by–product have remained largely untested, however, because lifetime status of older adults has been virtually unknown for natural populations. In a 25–year study of adult female savannah baboons (Papio cynocephalus), in each of three social groups, rank losses were common among the 66 females that lived past median adult age. These losses were not accounted for by loss in relative rank from group growth or by loss in absolute rank from reversals in rank between members of different maternal families or between sisters. Rather, females that had mature daughters experienced loss of dominance status to these offspring, a characteristic of all but the top–ranking matriline of each group. Among proposed hypotheses for rank reversals between adults, that of kin selection based on relative reproductive value is most clearly supported by these data. In contrast, observed patterns of rank loss are not consistent with alternative models that postulate that changes during adult lifespan are a product of accumulated risk, physical decline during ageing, or coalitionary support among females within or between matrilines.

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