Why grooming is good for you

Our team has recently published two studies on the benefits of grooming exchange in Barbary macaques. Grooming is intensely studied by primatologists as a model behaviour to analyse the benefits of sociality.

Grooming...so relaxing!

Grooming…so relaxing!

In our first study (Molesti & Majolo 2015) we found that grooming did not increase food tolerance soon after a grooming interaction ended. This is not a surprising result, as the social benefits of grooming are more likely to become evident when considering large time windows than over short-term exchanges.

In our second study in male macaques (Young et al 2014), we found that monkeys with strong social bonds (measured by grooming exchange and other friendly behaviours) were better able to cope with social (aggression received) and environmental (low temperature) stressors. This supports previous research on humans and other animals in showing that sociality gives benefits in terms of survival, reproduction and response to stress.

Threat #1

Open mouth display: low intensity aggressive display in macaques


Molesti S & Majolo B. (2015). No short‐term contingency between grooming and food tolerance in Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus). Ethology, 121: 372-382.

Young C, Majolo B, Heistermann M, Schülke O, & Ostner J (2014). Responses to social and environmental stress are attenuated by strong male bonds in wild macaques. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111: 18195-18200.

Posted in Publication | Tagged | 2 Comments

Who is your best ally in a fight?

We have had a new paper published in Animal Behaviour on male Barbary macaques and who they pick to support them in a fight. Find the paper here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347214002590
Two males grooming in the beautiful cedar forest of Morocco (picture by Chris Young)

Two males grooming in the beautiful cedar forest of Morocco

Male primates are known to cooperate together to gain greater benefits than they could achieve alone, such as access to females for mating or to increase their rank position in the dominance hierarchy. One of the most common ways they cooperate is through aggressive coalitions, whereby two or more males team up against another individual. These can be very intense and dangerous situations with a great deal of physical aggression. However, it has remained unclear who is being recruited to join a male in these coalitions and why? Two main theories exist, firstly a male should try to recruit a partner with the greatest strength to maximise their chance of winning. Or alternatively as these coalitions are highly aggressive a male may select a partner with a strong social bond (a “friend”) as they would be less likely to leave them in the lurch during the aggressive contest.

To look at this we recorded all males who were around when a fight broke out and then which one was recruited to join a coalition. Males use a distinct facial expression and rapidly turn their head in the direction of the individual they want to recruit so we were able to easily decipher who was being selected. Knowing all the males who were in the immediate area when the fight occurred is a relatively unique aspect of the study and possible due to the openness of the oak and ceder forest in Morocco.
We found that our males are very flexible in their strategies, they would recruit the highest ranked males on some occasions and the male with the strongest social bond on others. It seems when the fight was directly over access to females then males would recruit the highest ranked male available, this should be the strongest male and males would need a strong partner as fights over females are generally highly contested. We think males may recruit a strongly bonded partner (“friend”) when trying to rise in the dominance hierarchy as these fights usually require several contests to ware-down the higher ranked individual to rise above them in the pecking order so a male should select a reliable partner for this, i.e. a good friend.
Another very interesting aspect we found is that male Barbary macaques do have long-term, strong social bonds with other males. This is unusual in male primates as they are usually unrelated in groups and are highly competitive fighting over females. So these friendships are less likely to develop in males than females. But our study males formed strong relationships with partners for two years of the study. Strong social relationships generally provide primates with several benefits and it seems in Barbary macaques one of these is being able to recruit a reliable, trustworthy partner for high risk, dangerous fights.
Conflicts are a risky business: better to have an ally whenever possible! (picture by Chris Young)

Conflicts are a risky business: better to have an ally whenever possible!

Posted in Publication | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Barbary macaques on National Geographic

The November issue of National Geographic features an article on the Barbary macaque and fantastic pictures of the monkeys we study in Morocco, taken by Francisco Mingorance. Francisco is a Spanish photographer who has spent long hours with the monkeys to get the right picture!

02-playtime-snackby Francisco Mingorance

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Conservation Evening at Monkey Forest

Members of the Barbary Macaque Project, Dr. Bonaventura Majolo and Professor Stuart Semple, together with Kristina Stazaker (Moroccan Primate Conservation) have been invited to give a talk on October 11th at the Conservation Evening organised by Monkey Forest in Staffordshire. The event will start at 17.30 with talks on the conservation of the Barbary macaques in the wild, be followed by a questions and answers session and a wine reception. The evening is a great opportunity to talk about the macaques and contribute to their conservation!


Posted in Conference | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Visit to the British counsins

The crew is all together after lots of pictures and data!

The crew is all together after lots of pictures and data!

Last week, we had an opportunity to visit the macaques at Trentham Monkey Forest, a park housing around 130 Barbary macaques in a large forested area. This visit was part of the elective module on Comparative Social Behaviour and Cognition offered to second year Psychology students at the University of Lincoln. At the park we enjoyed watching the monkeys in action and the students could collect some data on grooming exchange as part of the Poster assessment. We were pretty lucky with the weather, as it was sunny for most of the day, and the monkeys decided to behave, spending lots of time grooming! The visit was also an opportunity to film the monkeys (and humans!) to showcase one of the many engaging activities our students can be involved in during their degree at Lincoln.

The monkeys were very cooperative and spent quite a lot of time grooming

The monkeys were very cooperative and spent quite a lot of time grooming


Posted in Lincoln, Student | Tagged | Leave a comment