Scientists use GPS to track baboon troop movements in urban spaces for the first time

In a unique study, researchers from the University of Swansea (UK) and the University of Cape Town in South Africa used GPS collars to study the collective behavior of a troop of baboons living on the outskirts of Cape Town.

The GPS collars recorded the position of the baboons every second, and the researchers found that in the wild, the baboons exhibited typical patterns of collective behavior. In contrast, in urban areas, where there are increased risks such as traffic but increased potential for high-calorie human food rewards, baboons moved faster, split into subgroups, and did not have coordinated their movements with each other.

Although they do not coordinate their movements as they would in natural spaces, the researchers found that the leader-follower roles in the troop of baboons were similar in natural and urban space, high-ranking adult males having the most influence on the movement of group members.

Anna Bracken of Swansea University, lead author of the study, which is published Inot Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciencessaid: “We expected dominant baboons to have less influence over the movements of others in the urban space as the social dynamics of the troops break down. But we were surprised that the males continued to play a important role.”

Scientists are only just beginning to understand the collective behavior of wild social groups due to the challenges of observing many individuals at the same time. Scientists know even less whether collective behavior changes in built environments like cities. This is a significant knowledge gap given the increasing levels of spatial overlap between wildlife and humans around the world.

The surprising finding from this study is also good news for Cape Town’s Urban Baboon program, which aims to reduce negative interactions between humans and baboons.

“The baboon rangers are responsible for keeping the baboons out of town, and by focusing on the adult males they indirectly deter most of the group from the urban space, as these males tend to be followed,” said the Professor Justin O’Riain of the University. of Cape Town, co-author of the study.

The finding that baboons show flexible group cohesion and coordination, but robust leader-follower roles when moving around the city, highlights both the flexibility and robustness of collective behavior. Scientists are now using their dataset to take a closer look at baboons’ decisions to move in and out of natural and urban space.

Dr Andrew King, lead author of the study, explained: “When you observe animals in real time, you try to record everything in your laptop or computer, but only capture a small part of what is happening. This GPS data gives us a kind of time machine. We can go back to specific events and zoom in on what the baboons are doing.”

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Material provided by Swansea University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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