We are currently unaware of what factors drive primate positioning in their troops, despite their importance in predicting evolutionary fitness. As noted by the primary study, the centre of the troop may provide better safety from predation. However, being on the outside offers the first look at foraging opportunities. The mental processes that drive this behaviour are unknown. We also aren’t aware of what determines which individuals are closer to the front or back of the troop. Research suggests that more socially dominant individuals position themselves closer to the centre, as do those who prefer to be in close proximity to others. Furthermore, faster individuals tend to stay nearer the front, as do males, but this evidence is inconsistent. Therefore, this study investigates whether individual differences provide insight into consistent spatial positions.
The study in question found that an individual’s position in the group, measured using high resolution GPS tracking, remained consistent within the group and throughout time. Infants, the most dominant individuals, and predominantly males travelled more toward the centre of the troop. Individual differences explain this result, with the number of individuals that a baboon preferred to be close to being related to their position. Those with more higher preferred numbers of neighbours were found closer to the centre, and those with lower numbers of neighbours were found further out. These individual differences also accounted for baboon’s positioning toward the front or back of the group, with adult males holding more forward positions.
Some individuals are more strongly attracted to or repulsed by the group centre. This might suggest that individuals maintain a global overview of where all or most group members are. However, this study shows that group level coordination can emerge from individuals responding only to those nearby. For example, infants were found closer to the centre due to being more vulnerable, and so are more keen to be surrounded by other individuals to protect them. Thus, they naturally tend toward the centre where more individuals gather. These results are supportive of the role of simple processes, relating to individual difference. This finding is important in the field of evolution, as it allows us to understand how social positioning helps primates protect against predators and maintain social relations. Author of entry: Emil Kimber