Learning From our Closest Relatives

Duke's primate researchers travel the globe to observe wild primates, including the chimpanzees of Gombe who were first studied by Jane Goodall, and the baboons of Amboseli, who have been studied for five decades.

LASTING EFFECTS OF MATERNAL LOSS

Young primates born in the last four years of a female’s life have a greater risk of dying young. If they survive their mother’s death, their own children are also likely to suffer a premature death. (Fernando Campos)

Young primates born in the last four years of a female’s life have a greater risk of dying young. If they survive their mother’s death, their own children are also likely to suffer a premature death. (Fernando Campos)

It’s no surprise that losing your mother is bad for you. What is surprising is that the troubles start even before she dies, according to a new study comparing life histories of several species of primates. A Dec. 2020 study from Duke shows that the negative effects of maternal loss start to appear years before the mother actually dies. These effects also reach across generations, lessening the survival of her future grandchildren as well.

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FRIENDSHIP LEADS TO LONGER LIFE

 

Grooming is a baboon’s way of bonding. A 35-year study of more than 540 wild baboons in Kenya links strong social bonds to better chances of survival. (Photo by Susan Alberts, Duke)

Grooming is a baboon’s way of bonding. A 35-year study of more than 540 wild baboons in Kenya links strong social bonds to better chances of survival. (Photo by Susan Alberts, Duke)

Opposite-sex friendships can have non-romantic benefits. And not just for people, but for our primate cousins, too. A 35-year study of 542 baboons finds that males that have close female friends have higher rates of survival. Previous studies have assumed that males befriend females to protect their offspring, or to boost their chances of mating later on. But the new study points to an additional benefit:  female friends may help them live a longer life.

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THE FEMALE BOSS IS LESS STRESSED

 

Born to rule and rarely challenged, alpha female baboons have lower levels of stress hormones than their dominant male counterparts or other females. (Photo by Matthew Zipple, Duke)

Born to rule and rarely challenged, alpha female baboons have lower levels of stress hormones than their dominant male counterparts or other females. (Photo by Matthew Zipple, Duke)

You know the type: Loud. Swaggering. Pushy. The alpha male clearly runs the show. Female alphas are often less conspicuous than their puffed up male counterparts, but holding the top spot still has its perks. Now, a study of female baboons points to another upside to being No. 1. A Duke University-led study of 237 female baboons in Kenya found that alphas have significantly lower levels of glucocorticoids, hormones produced in response to stress.

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