Male baboons may be promiscuous, but they are there for their kids when they need them, according to new research.
Findings: Baboon hearts in right place
Unlike some other primates, baboons do not form long-term relationships after they mate. Because males and females typically have multiple sexual partners, it has been unclear whether male baboons even recognize their own offspring, let alone keep an eye on them.
Jason Buchan of Duke University and colleagues studied baboons in Kenya at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro for three years, identifying the fathers of 75 young baboons by analyzing genetic material from their droppings.
From July 1999 to 2002, the researchers observed 73 incidents in which a male baboon intervened in a dispute between one of the young baboons and an unrelated baboon. In 69 of those conflicts, the fathers sided with their offspring, the researchers found.
"The fact that male baboons . . . selectively support their own offspring indicates that even in species where females mate with multiple males, paternal care can and does evolve," the researchers wrote in the Sept. 11 issue of the journal Nature.
It is unclear how the male baboons recognize their offspring, but the researchers speculated that it could be by the timing of their birth, their smell or some physical resemblance that only the baboons can discern.
Regardless, the findings "cast doubt on the conventional wisdom that female primates copulate with several males to confuse paternity to reduce infanticide and increase the pool of males that provide care for the young," Paul Sherman of Cornell University wrote in an accompanying commentary.
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