Chscma baboon_ZSL H Peck
September 14, 2012

Human Consumer Choice Technique Used To Study Foraging Habits Of Baboons

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

A technique used to study people´s consumer choices was utilized by a team of researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to study similar foraging decisions made by baboons in the wild. The technique, known as discrete choice modeling, has had limited usage in the animal kingdom, and the results of this new study are impressive.

This modeling technique showed researchers how baboons not only consider social and non-social factors in their foraging habits, but also how they change these factors depending on their habitat and social traits.

For their study, the team followed troops of chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) over a six month period in Tsaobis Leopard Park in Namibia, Africa. During the baboons´ daily tasks, the team recognized individual baboons by distinguishing features, and closely observed relationships between the baboons, which ranged from friendly social gatherings to aggressive meetings. During these encounters they also noted which food patch they foraged in and which baboons they foraged with.

The researchers observed, without much surprise, that baboons generally used patches containing more food. What was perhaps more interesting, was the fact that these baboons paid close attention to their social relationships with other baboons in the food patches.

“More dominant baboons preferred using patches containing animals who they were dominant to, and so more likely to be able to steal food from. However, these less dominant baboons seemed to compensate for this by preferring patches containing animals with whom they had good social bonds and so were more likely to tolerate them,” lead researcher Harry Marshall, from ZSL and Imperial College London, said in a press release.

“These findings show how animals' decision-making can be dependent on where they are and who they are. This suggests that some animals can change their behaviour to adjust to a changing environment,” added ZSL´s Dr. Guy Cowlishaw.

The researchers plan to continue their research and investigate how baboons´ foraging behavior is affected by environmental changes, and the impact this has on socially foraging species in the future.

The Tsaobis Baboon Project has been running since 2000 in affiliation with the Gobabeb Desert Research Foundation, Namibia and with the kind permission of the Namibian government.