Baboon group movement based on habitat, social behavior •

Baboon group movement based on habitat, social behavior

Flocks of seagulls, schools of fish. Animals who move in large groups have often been of particular interest to many humans who wonder how they seem to coordinate so much better than we do. An international team of researchers from the U.S. and Germany set out to find out which factors influence collective group movement in baboons.

The team found that individual baboons typically follow the road most travelled by others in their group. The research also showed that various environmental factors, such as available roadways and vegetation density, play an important role in the collective group movement of baboons.

The researchers followed a group of 25 wild olive baboons using GPS tracking and drone imaging systems at the Mpala Research Center in Laikipia, Kenya. As a result, the team was able to see the full scope of the habitat in relation to how the baboons moved within it. The researchers then combined this data with a modeling system to predict the group’s next moves.

The study, published in the journal eLife, revealed that the most significant predictor of the baboons’ movement is where the other group members had recently gone. More specifically, baboons were likely to follow the paths traveled by other baboons in the previous 5 minutes. The more group members that had traveled a particular path made that path more attractive to the individual baboons.

“We also found that baboons tend to use man-made roads and, to a lesser degree, animal paths, allowing them to effectively ‘commute’ to and from their group’s sleeping site,” said Ariana Strandburg-Peshkin, PhD, from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University, now based at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

“The animals’ movements are also constrained by habitat features such as vegetation density in the area. In particularly dense environments, for example, the troop moves slower and individuals become less aligned in their direction of travel, showing how local environmental complexity can impact the overall structure and motion of groups.”

By Rory Arnold, Staff Writer

Image: Strandburg-Peshkin et all.

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