Friendly foes and shared spaces: human niche construction shapes foraging and sociality in chacma baboons (Papio hamadryas ursinus)




Ellwanger, Amanda Leigh

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Humans have shaped the environment at such scales that we must look beyond the ecological impacts of such activities towards their evolutionary significance. In this dissertation, I examine the influence of human niche construction on foraging and sociality of chacma baboons (Papio hamadryas ursinus) in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa. I use an integrative theoretical approach that draws on niche construction theory, the ecology of fear, and ethnoprimatology to investigate the following questions: 1) do humans or leopards pose a greater threat to baboons; 2) what are the factors shaping people's attitudes towards baboons; and 3) how does fear of predation affect baboon social networks and is fear a socially transmittable phenotype? To examine these questions, I employ a diverse methodological toolkit including behavioral observations of baboons, ecological habitat assessments, ethnographic interviews, and social network analysis. The results indicate that humans pose a greater threat than leopards to baboons, based on vigilance rate, activity, and habitat use. People's experiences observing the baboons interacting with one another, particularly in the mountains, and displaying human-like qualities, were influential in facilitating coexistence. However, people associate baboons more strongly with fynbos animals, not with humans. Attitudes that promote conflict are related to the baboons' selective yet flexible foraging and diverse diets—a hallmark of their dietary and behavioral flexibility—which is viewed as destructive and wasteful. Baboon social networks varied between non-risky and risky habitats, suggesting they alter their social foraging strategies in risky habitats to maximize the benefits of conspecific vigilance while minimizing the chance of detection by predators. Moreover, the most influential individuals increase in prominence in risky habitats and these central individuals may set the tone for subgroups regarding the fear of predation, which may be a socially transmittable phenotype. I conclude by suggesting several ways in which these data can be further explored theoretically and applied to conflict mitigation.


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conflict and coexistence, ecology of fear, ethnoprimatology, human-nonhuman primate interactions, niche construction theory, social network analysis