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02/26/2020 14:17

Pretty good relatives

Dr. Susanne Diederich Stabsstelle Kommunikation
Deutsches Primatenzentrum GmbH - Leibniz-Institut für Primatenforschung

    Mandrills care for close maternal kin despite infection

    Our physical and psychological condition is decisive for
    our well-being. Humans who have a stable network of friends and relatives are
    therefor generally happier and healthier than others. Monkeys consolidate their
    relationships by social grooming. This physical contact strengthens social bonds
    and minimizes stress and conflict. The downside: Physical contact is the ideal basis
    for the spread of pathogens. One strategy to stop their transmission is to avoid
    infected individuals. Mandrills are able to do this because they can detect infected
    conspecifics by smell. Clémence Poirotte from the German Primate Center – Leibniz
    Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen and Marie Charpentier from the Institut
    des Sciences de l'Evolution de Montpellier (CNRS) have now shown that the animals
    do not avoid all group members equally. Close maternal kin do not reduce their
    care, even if this increases the risk of infection for them (Biology Letters).

    Clémence Poirotte conducted this study using six years of behavioral and
    parasitological data collected from a wild mandrill population inhabiting the Lékédi
    Park in Southern Gabon. This population comprises about 220 habituated individuals
    studied since 2012 as part of the long-term study "Mandrillus Project" led by Marie
    Charpentier. These Old World monkeys living in the dense rainforests are infested by
    various intestinal parasites, some with health consequences. Parasites spread through
    physical contacts, especially social grooming. The Mandrillus Project routinely
    determines the frequency and duration of social activities and the degree of kinship
    between the animals using genetic analyses, In addition daily faecal samples are
    collected to evaluate the parasite infestation of the animals. Up to seven sets of
    contagious parasites (amoebas) colonize the monkeys.

    In many primate societies, such as the mandrills, highly differentiated social bonds
    usually occur between closely related group members. The Mandrills' strategy of not
    avoiding risky contacts altogether, but rather maintaining the bonds between mother
    and children and between maternal half siblings, stabilizes social relationships. "Even if
    close maternal relatives are highly contagious, the social effects of avoiding them seem
    to be more harmful than the hygienic or physiological disadvantages associated with
    social grooming," explains Clémence Poirotte.

    Contact for scientific information:

    Clémence Poirotte

    Original publication:

    Poirotte C, Charpentier MJE.2020 Unconditional care from close maternalkin in the face of
    parasites. Biol. Lett. 16:20190869.

    More information: | printable photos

    Criteria of this press release:
    transregional, national
    Research results

    Grooming session between a mother and her daughters. In Mandrills close maternal kin do not reduce their care, even if this increases the risk of infection for them.

    For download


    A juvenile female grooming her mother. Physical contact is the ideal basis for the spread of pathogens in Mandrills.

    For download



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