Picture obtained from the Internet Bird Collection.
Social structures are something we have all experienced in one way or another. Ever since the origins of humanity and human culture, social hierarchy has been a crucial aspect to our survival and growth as a species. Until recently, many scientists hypothesized that the formation of social structures require complex and large brains. For example, baboons have relatively similar brains to humans and thus often live in multilevel societies. Other mammals, such as elephants, giraffes, and sperm whales have also been known to formulate and live within social structures. However, a study written by Dr. Damien Farine demonstrated that multilayered societies may extend to species that have a relatively small range of cognitive abilities. Previous brief observations of the vulturine guineafowl (Papio hamadryas) suggests that despite the particularly small brain of this species they may have a complex social structure that is not well understood.
In order to gather conclusive evidence, Dr. Farine observed and studied a total of 441 vulturine guineafowl over a period of one year in Nanyuki, Kenya. Farine and his colleagues counted 18 total groups of guineafowl in this area and attached GPS devices to 58 birds across these 18 groups in hopes of being able to monitor their positions at all times. Usually, one to five birds per group were chosen to be fitted with the GPS devices. Colored bracelets were also placed on the legs of all the birds in the sample in order to help researchers distinguish between the different groups of organisms.
The results obtained from analysis of the data revealed a number of shocking trends. Researchers noticed that group membership varied little over the year long study as the birds tended to stick with their own pack and were always found within thirty meters of another group member. Additionally, Farine found that not only did many groups interact with one another on a daily basis but many of these groups also showed particular preferences to certain other populations. A number of these birds tended to stick close to one another and formulate small “friendship” subdivisions within the main group where they would spend most of their time. Analysis of the data exhibited that some packs even preferred to sleep together in one giant cluster during the night despite a lack of an overlapping homerange. In other words, particular groups would specifically migrate out of their usual locations to roost with other packs. In the morning, Farine noticed that all of the organisms that slept together at night would eventually disperse back into their original groups instead of remaining as one collective group.
The brains of vulturine guineafowl are not only small in comparison to mammals, but also are quite undersized when compared to other bird species. Thus, the fact that this species is able to track social interactions and exist in a multilevel society suggests that brain power may not be the only factor that causes social hierarchies to form. This is astounding data as it was previously thought that social structures were limited to only higher functioning organisms. However, after the conclusion reached in this study, it is highly possible that there are a substantial number of cognitively challenged species that have complex social structures which we may not realize. It will be interesting to see where research takes this subject as it is abundantly clear that we still do not know the exact mechanisms leading to the formation of social groups in certain species.
Posted by James Levangie (8)
It is interesting that you mention that more simple minded organisms can develop complex hierarchies. The complexity of the brain dictates the ability of the brain to form hierarchies beyond what the birds can do. Our brains are obviously more complex but we also have more complex hierarchies that stretch to every element in our lives whether it be politics, family, age groups, friend groups, classes etc.ReplyDelete
- King Wahib
Your article sheds life on how there can be certain trade-offs in evolution. Different species have different gifts. Although these birds might not have the most cognitive ability, they still thrive in their environment. In the case of the Vulturine Guineafowl, they make up in social ability where they lack in cognitive ability. I'd like to know more about how flock members of this species interact with one another.ReplyDelete
I found this article super interesting. I think its fascinating that birds that are thought to have little brain complexity have such a hierarchy in their community. I wonder if these birds compensate for the lack of cognitive ability in their social abilities. I would love to see a study that furthered this. Maybe something that could study this species for a longer period of time and watch to see if their hierarchy changes with different environmental factors or different pressures acting against the species.ReplyDelete
While I can not find any additional studies surrounding how the social hierarchy of the vulturine guineafowl may change, there is a wealth of data from other bird species that do indeed show a change in social structure overtime. For example, in captive monk parakeet groups social collectives are structured by aggression. Observations of aggressive encounters seemed to show that the winner often increased in social hierarchy, while the loser tended to decrease in ranking. Additionally, in many bird species that are under sexual selection, the larger and “flashier” organisms tend to be at the top of the social ladder. However, this position as an alpha individual can easily be taken if a new individual is seen as more appealing to the opposite sex. In this case, the new individual would then tend to lead the pack as the head alpha organism. While there is not any data supporting similar trends in the vulturine guineafowl, I personally see no reason as to why the social structure of this species would not change overtime.Delete
Posted by James Levangie
I enjoyed reading your post, and found this topic very interesting. I am not surprised that social structures are not limited to animals with large complex brains, since social interaction is an essential and almost primal part of our evolution. As humans, we have 42 muscles in our face dedicated to facial expressions, and studies have shown that isolation from social interaction can result in various negative impacts on both psychological and physical health. I believe this social construct system is the result of the need for animals and humans to survive in a group or heard setting, where support and acceptance from the group helps improve the individuals quality of life. This could also be why humans exhibit universal facial expressions for happiness, sadness, fear, and anger. Do you have any ideas as to the origins of social construct systems, or other parallels between the social constructs of humans and animals?ReplyDelete
Posted by Kayla Rosiello
I never really given much thought to birds before taking Animal Communications. From this course I learned that the capacity for these animals to learn and communicate with each other is fascinating yet highly complex. I currently work within a research lab handling zebra finch brains, and my project essentially focuses on the NCM section located within these bird brains. NCM plays a major role in memory making for birds, and within my lab we monitor this portion of the brain in efforts to learn more about the neurological functions that correlate with memory making. Birds are pretty awesome.ReplyDelete
In order for many birds to be successful and have their genes represented in the next generation, there is an evolutionary need for these animals to learn and communicate with one another. I remember learning in a past course that the NCM plays a crucial role in the formation of auditory memories which guide vocal production and learning. Without an NCM it would be impossible for the bird to interact with members of its own species. Thus, this information makes me wonder if the NCM region also plays a role in the birds ability to memorize and learn how to act in social situations. If this was the case then the NCM could be helping these birds learn to live in a variety of social situations. Therefore, the NCM might play an even larger role than previously thought by helping many birds to form sophisticated social structures.Delete
Posted by James Levangie