Infant handling enhances social bonds in free-ranging rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta)

in Behaviour
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Throughout the primate order, individuals are highly motivated to handle infants that are not their own. Given the differing and often conflicting interests of the various participants in handling interactions (handler, infant, and mother), most functional hypotheses are specific to particular handling roles. Here we explore one hypothesis that may apply to all participants, but that has received relatively little attention: that handling may facilitate the formation and maintenance of social bonds. Using free-ranging rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) on Cayo Santiago, we examine the relationship between infant handling in the early weeks and the strength and diversity of infant social bonds months later, when infant relationships were more independent from those of their mothers. Our results largely confirm the influence of several social characteristics (kinship, rank, sex, and age) in governing handling interactions. They also provide the first evidence that early handling is associated with later social bonds that are stronger than expected based on these social characteristics. However, the enhancement of bonds is largely confined to related handlers; frequent unrelated handlers did not generally go on to form strong bonds with infants. This suggests that kinship may be a sort of prerequisite to the enhancement of social bonds via handling. Given the adaptive benefits of strong social bonds among adult primates, future research should investigate whether early infant handling may have longer term fitness effects.

Infant handling enhances social bonds in free-ranging rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta)

in Behaviour

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References

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Figures

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    Mean ± SE infant-potential handler attraction scores as a function of maternal relatedness. Attraction scores represent percentages of time potential handlers spent near infants over and above the amount of time they spent near the mom prior to giving birth. Data for each sex of potential handler (a) and each age class of potential handler (b) are shown separately. For closely related dyads, r=0.25; for intermediately related dyads, r=0.125; for distant/unrelated dyads, r<0.125. See Table 1 for significant pairwise comparisons.

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    Mean ± SE scores for early infant handling as a function of maternal relatedness. Handling scores are calculated from early infancy contact CSI values. Data are shown separately for different handler age classes. For closely related dyads, r=0.25; for intermediately related dyads, r=0.125; for distant/unrelated dyads, r<0.125. See Table 2 for significant pairwise comparisons.

  • View in gallery

    Mean late infancy scores for social bond strength (CSI values for affiliation) as a function of handling scores (CSI values for handling) in the early weeks for individual infants (a) and for infant-handler dyads (b). Data are shown separately for different maternal kinship relationships. For closely related dyads, r=0.25; for intermediately related dyads, r=0.125; for distant/unrelated dyads, r<0.125. Note that in (b), high handling scores among distant/unrelated dyads did not generally translate to later strong social bonds.

  • View in gallery

    Mean ± SE late infancy social bond scores (affiliative CSI values) as a function of maternal relatedness. Data for different handler age classes (a) and different handler sex classes (b) are shown separately. For closely related dyads, r=0.25; for intermediately related dyads, r=0.125; for distant/unrelated dyads, r<0.125. See Table 3 for significant pairwise comparisons.

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