Fitbits show that even baboons find it difficult to go somewhere with a toddler

Even baboons find toddlers difficult! Monkeys compromise their preferred speed to let young people keep up with the group, study shows

  • Baboons of all shapes and sizes change their preferred speed to keep a group together
  • That’s the finding of a study that used Fitbits on a troop of 25 primates in Africa
  • But the smallest baboons pay the biggest energy costs by having to travel faster

When it comes to walking toddlers, it seems that baboons everywhere share the same pain as parents.

A new study on primate movement looked at how individuals of different sizes change their behavior to keep a group together.

It found that they all made sacrifices, including the larger and faster baboons who spent more time traveling and less time eating because they had to slow down or wait for others.

However, it was the smallest members of the troop who lost the most. They paid the highest energy costs to go faster than their preferred pace and travel longer routes to keep up.

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Cohesion: A new study on primate movement looked at how individuals of different sizes change their behavior to keep a group together

Cohesion: A new study on primate movement looked at how individuals of different sizes change their behavior to keep a group together

WHAT WERE THE MAIN FINDINGS?

A study by the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior examined primate movement and how individuals of different sizes change their behavior to keep a group together.

It found that they all made sacrifices, including the larger and faster baboons who spent more time traveling and less time eating because they had to slow down or wait for others.

However, it was the smallest members of the troop who lost the most. They paid the highest energy costs to go faster than their preferred pace and travel longer routes to keep up.

Scientists say that the fact that baboons adjust their speed according to their neighbors is evidence of democratic processes at work in a very despotic kind.

Researchers attached accelerometers — the equivalent of pedometers or Fitbits — to a troop of 25 baboons at Kenya’s Mpala Research Center to record their daily travels.

The Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior study claims it is the first to obtain ultra-high-resolution data on movement and energy from a group of wild primates.

Baboons live in stable societies of up to 150 individuals, ranging from infants to adult males weighing up to five pounds, and travel together in these mixed age groups.

The study found that all baboons compromised their preferred speed to match their closest neighbor’s pace, especially as the group began to drift apart.

But it was the smallest members who had to adapt the most, moving faster than their preferred pace, covering longer routes and expending more energy.

“Anyone who has tried to walk with a toddler knows the challenges of moving with someone of different physical ability,” said Roi Harel, one of the study’s authors.

“But to unravel this mystery in groups of wild animals, technology was needed to catch up.”

The team found that primates have a preferred speed of movement depending on their body size: A large male with longer legs will naturally move with greater strides and require fewer steps to cover the same distance compared to a juvenile with smaller legs.

When it comes to walking with toddlers, baboons seem to find it just as difficult as humans

When it comes to walking with toddlers, baboons seem to find it just as difficult as humans

When it comes to walking with toddlers, baboons seem to find it just as difficult as humans

However, scientists say that the fact that they adjust their speed to their neighbors is evidence of democratic processes at work in a very despotic kind.

It also means that the larger and faster baboons pay an ‘opportunity cost’ because they spend extra time traveling that could have been used for activities such as feeding.

“The dominant male clearly has power over other baboons in one-on-one interactions,” Harel said.

“But when it comes to collective movement, it seems like a shared decision-making process drives the group.”

He added: “Small individuals pay disproportionate costs associated with maintaining group cohesion, and this may be because they have the most to gain from group membership.”

The researchers also used computer simulations to see what the group would look like if everyone moved at their desired pace rather than adjusting to others, and found that it was a requirement for cohesion.

Harel said: “Our simulations show that to mimic the levels of cohesion we observe in wild baboons, group members must adapt their movement patterns in response to who they are next to and where they are in the group.”

The scientists hope this research will lead to a better understanding of group-dwelling animals in their natural habitat.

The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

WHY DO NON-HUMAN PRIMATES DECREASE NUMBERS?

Behind the slump in numbers is an increase in industrial agriculture, large-scale ranching, logging, oil and gas drilling, mining, dam construction and road construction.

The illegal bushmeat trade – killing monkeys and monkeys for their meat – is also decimating the animals, as well as changing climates and diseases spreading from human to monkey.

Growing trees for palm oil production – which is used in many popular foods – poses a particular threat to primates in Indonesia, as does gold and sapphires mining in Madagascar.

With many species living in rainforests, cutting down millions of acres of forest to meet increasing demand for timber or clearing land for agriculture is destroying their habitat and making populations more fragmented.

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