In group-living animals, an individual’s social environment (e.g., the number and quality of social bonds) can have profound and far-reaching fitness consequences. For example, in many social mammals, females with higher quality or quantity of social bonds experience longer life expectancies, greater infant survival rates, and higher reproductive success.
My recent interest in social connectedness grew out of work directed by my collaborator Urs Kalbitzer that uncovered startling evidence that female sociality in white-faced capuchins can have negative fitness consequences that arise from male behavior. Specifically, highly social female capuchins are more frequently targeted in infanticidal attacks by immigrant males following a group takeover: Kalbitzer et al. (2017) PNAS.
My postdoctoral work at Duke, pursued with Prof. Susan Alberts and funded by NIH grant 2P01AG031719-06A1 (to James Vaupel, Kaare Christensen, and Susan Alberts), further explored the importance of social bonds in baboons. One of the project’s main goals was to examine the role of social integration in mediating male-female differences in health and survival during aging.