Policing stabilizes construction of social niches in primates

Nature. 2006 Jan 26;439(7075):426-9. doi: 10.1038/nature04326.


All organisms interact with their environment, and in doing so shape it, modifying resource availability. Termed niche construction, this process has been studied primarily at the ecological level with an emphasis on the consequences of construction across generations. We focus on the behavioural process of construction within a single generation, identifying the role a robustness mechanism--conflict management--has in promoting interactions that build social resource networks or social niches. Using 'knockout' experiments on a large, captive group of pigtailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina), we show that a policing function, performed infrequently by a small subset of individuals, significantly contributes to maintaining stable resource networks in the face of chronic perturbations that arise through conflict. When policing is absent, social niches destabilize, with group members building smaller, less diverse, and less integrated grooming, play, proximity and contact-sitting networks. Instability is quantified in terms of reduced mean degree, increased clustering, reduced reach, and increased assortativity. Policing not only controls conflict, we find it significantly influences the structure of networks that constitute essential social resources in gregarious primate societies. The structure of such networks plays a critical role in infant survivorship, emergence and spread of cooperative behaviour, social learning and cultural traditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Female
  • Macaca nemestrina / physiology*
  • Macaca nemestrina / psychology*
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Social Behavior*