"Stay at Home" Baboon Dads Raise Healthier Kids

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
February 5, 2008

Young baboons with "stay at home" dads are healthier and mature more quickly than their peers, a new study says.

The effects are particularly pronounced in daughters, though Duke University primatologist Susan Alberts isn't sure how it works.

"Dads may be somehow enhancing their kids' nutritional status by [boosting] their [offspring's] ability to get food," said Alberts, senior author of the new study.

"It's also possible that by intervening on behalf of their kids, they are reducing their kids' stress levels."

No Deadbeat Dads

Paternal care is relatively rare among mammals. Because yellow baboon mothers are typically seen caring for their young, the same was thought to be true of that species.

"Females often mate with multiple males, so we used to think that males didn't have any way to know who their offspring were," said Joan Silk, a UCLA anthropologist unaffiliated with the new research.

"It turns out that we were probably wrong."

The researchers used data from studies of yellow baboons living in Kenya. They found that the more time fathers spent with their daughters, the faster the daughters reached menarche, the onset of menstruation.

Sons also matured more quickly if their fathers hung around, but only if their fathers were high-ranking at the time of their birth, the researchers added.

(See a picture of a baby baboon.)

In previous studies of baboons in Kenya, Alberts and colleagues took DNA samples that revealed many infants grow up in groups with their fathers. The researchers also found that those fathers routinely intervened in disputes to stand up for their kids.

Continued on Next Page >>


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