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Helpful baboon dads boost offsprings' success

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    Helpful baboon dads boost offsprings success * 22:00 04 February 2008 * NewScientist.com news service * Nora Schultz  Juvenile baboon grooming an adult
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2008

      Helpful baboon dads boost offsprings' success

          * 22:00 04 February 2008
          * NewScientist.com news service
          * Nora Schultz


      Juvenile baboon grooming an adult male, Amboseli, Kenya (Image: Susan C Alberts)

      Stay-at-home dads really do make a difference to the success of their kids – at least amongst yellow baboons. Daughters, and some sons, who get help from their dads enjoy a reproductive head-start by maturing quicker, a new study suggests.

      Baboons do not have a reputation for gentle manners and parenting, and males often move on to new groups.

      "But now we know that males help their kids a lot. Sometimes a male will even adopt an orphaned baby and carry it around for months," says Susan Alberts of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, US.

      Alberts and her colleagues tracked the time male baboons spent in a social group and measured the age at which 118 of their offspring first menstruated or developed enlarged testicles, both signs of sexual maturity.
      Reduced stress

      The longer dad stuck around, the sooner his daughters got their first period. Sons benefited too, but only if the father came high in the social pecking order.

      "Male baboons are twice the size of females, so if boys but not girls have conflict with adult males, then maybe it takes high-ranking dads to protect sons," explains Alberts.

      The researchers think that sexual maturation speeds up because better food and reduced stress pave the way for earlier sex hormone action.

      Barbara Smuts at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, US, who has seen young baboons try to be near their fathers when foraging, agrees.

      This may allow the young to snatch food scraps or to dig out treats without being chased away by bullies. The father may also make his young feel safer, says Smuts. “Perhaps they learn over time that when they are in trouble, he'll be there.”
      Sense of security

      Richard Seyfarth of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who previously found lower stress hormone levels in female baboons with good male friends, also agrees: "Such a sense of security could shift their hormonal balance in favour of earlier maturation."

      So can top human dads also expect precocious children?

      Actually, no. Because human fathers are often still around when their children hit puberty, early maturation increases the risk of incest and father-son competition. So a dad's presence tends to delay sexual maturation in humans. Baboons do not have this problem.

      "Even the best [baboon] dads tend to leave, or die, before their kids become mature", says Alberts.

      Journal reference: >Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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