1 Tahrcountry Musings: In elephants age does matter in leadership

Sunday, October 02, 2011

In elephants age does matter in leadership

Leadership in elephants: the adaptive value of age

Karen McComb, Graeme Shannon,Sarah M. Durant,Katito Sayialel,Rob Slotow,Joyce Poole,and Cynthia Moss

March 16, 2011Proc. R. Soc. B 7 November 2011 vol. 278 no. 1722 3270-3276

I found this paper food for thought. It provides the first empirical evidence that individuals within a social group of elephants may derive significant benefits from the influence of an older leader because of their enhanced ability to make crucial decisions about predatory threat, generating what the authors say important insights into selection for longevity in cognitively advanced social mammals.

The value of age is well recognized in human societies, where older individuals often emerge as leaders in tasks that require specialized knowledge. Against this axiom what part do such individuals play in other social species? We have very little knowledge. The information is nebulous. This paper clears the cobweb at least in respect of African elephant (Loxodonta africana).

Here, the researchers used a novel playback paradigm to demonstrate that in African elephants, age affects the ability of matriarchs to make ecologically relevant decisions in a domain critical to survival i.e. the assessment of predatory threat.

Groups consistently adjusted their defensive behaviour to the greater threat of three roaring lions versus one. Against these families with younger matriarchs under-reacted to roars from male lions despite the severe danger they represent.

The researchers say sensitivity to the key threats increases with matriarch age and is greatest for the oldest matriarchs, who are likely to have accumulated the most experience.

On the whole a very good paper

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