Photo by: Purwo Kuncoro

Grantee Spotlight: Carrie Miller

Carrie Miller is a PhD candidate from the University of Minnesota. She was awarded a Leakey Foundation Research Grant during our spring 2017 cycle for her project entitled “Does paternity certainty elicit protection and support of offspring by male gelada monkeys?”

Carrie Miller with a gelada monkey in Ethiopia

Recent studies suggest humans underwent an intermediate stage of polygyny within a multi-level society, similar to multi-level societies observed in gelada monkeys (Theropithecus gelada) or hamadryas baboons (Papio hamadryas). Gelada males employ a range of reproductive strategies and may practice multiple strategies over the course of their life. Leader-males invest heavily in mating effort by defending and maintaining stable breeding bonds with ‘harem’ females in their one-male unit (OMU). Because, the gelada OMU typically has just one breeding male, leader-males should have high paternity certainty. The resulting high paternity certainty makes infanticide a logical strategy for new males taking over an OMU. The multi-level social structure also results in frequent encounters with rival males in all-male bachelor groups seeking to acquire an OMU of their own. However, deposed leader-males often stay on as subordinate follower-males, perhaps to protect their offspring from infanticide following the take-over by a new male. These combined features of gelada societies suggest that males, especially recently deposed leader-males, may benefit by shifting their investment to parenting effort. However, male-immature interactions have not yet been studied in detail in geladas or other primates with multi-level societies.

Guassa Gelada Research Project field site

My project seeks to examine the role multi-level social systems of geladas, which exhibit high paternity certainty and high infanticide risk, may have played in promoting paternal care in the absence of provisioning. I will examine variation in male-immature interactions and long-term paternal effects on immatures through behavioral data collection with gelada monkeys at Guassa, Ethiopia. I will also assign paternity for immatures in the Guassa study population through genetic analysis of fecal samples.

By studying gelada male reproductive strategies and male-immature interactions we can better understand the variation in paternal care and male reproductive strategies observed across human societies. In addition, by studying these questions in a species with a multi-level social system, we will begin to understand the significant role multi-level systems played in the evolution of similar social traits in humans.

Guassa geladas

Riff Raff (infant) and Rafiki (mother)

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