Paternal effects on access to resources in a promiscuous primate society

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Abstract

The evolution of paternal care is rare in promiscuous mammals, where it is hampered by low paternity confidence. However, recent evidence indicates that juveniles whose fathers are present experience accelerated maturation in promiscuous baboon societies. The mechanisms mediating these paternal effects remain unclear. Here, we investigated whether father–offspring associations might facilitate offspring access to resources in wild desert baboons (Papio ursinus). We combined paternity analyses and behavioral observations of juveniles that had started feeding autonomously to show that (1) offspring associate more often with their genetic father than with any other male, and actively manage such associations, (2) offspring associate more closely with their father when another adult male is in sight, and when their mother is out of sight, (3) father–offspring associations are more frequent when juveniles are feeding (relative to other activities), and these associations enable juveniles to access richer food patches, and (4) father–offspring associations are stronger among subordinate males and their offspring. Taken together, these findings indicate that fathers may buffer the social and ecological environment faced by their offspring. In addition to mitigating risks of attacks by predators or conspecifics, paternal presence improves offspring access to food in wild baboons, highlighting a new mechanism through which fathers may impact offspring fitness in promiscuous primate societies.

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