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, 8 (9), e73044
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Head Rubbing and Licking Reinforce Social Bonds in a Group of Captive African Lions, Panthera Leo

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Head Rubbing and Licking Reinforce Social Bonds in a Group of Captive African Lions, Panthera Leo

Tomoyuki Matoba et al. PLoS One.

Abstract

Many social animals have a species-specific repertoire of affiliative behaviours that characterise individualised relationships within a group. To date, however, quantitative studies on intragroup affiliative behaviours in social carnivores have been limited. Here, we investigated the social functions of the two most commonly observed affiliative behaviours in captive African lions (Panthera leo): head rubbing and licking. We conducted behavioural observations on a captive group of lions composed of 7 males and 14 females, and tested hypotheses regarding three social functions: tension reduction, social bonding, and social status expression. Disproportionately frequent male-male and female-to-male head rubbing was observed, while more than 95% of all licking interactions occurred in female-female dyads. In accordance with the social bond hypothesis, and in disagreement with the social status expression hypothesis, both head rubbing and licking interactions were reciprocal. After controlling for spatial association, the dyadic frequency of head rubbing was negatively correlated with age difference while licking was positively correlated with relatedness. Group reunion after daily separation did not affect the frequencies of the affiliative behaviours, which was in disagreement with the predictions from the tension reduction hypothesis. These results support the social bond hypothesis for the functions of head rubbing and licking. Different patterns of affiliative behaviour between the sexes may reflect differences in the relationship quality in each sex or the differential predisposition to licking due to its original function in offspring care.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1. Pictures of lion affiliative interactions.
A male rubs its head against the forehead of a resting male (left) and a female licks another female’s face (right).
Figure 2
Figure 2. Kinship in the subject group of lions.
Males are indicated by underlined IDs. Siblings from the same litter are connected by vertical lines. Bold, dashed and double lines represent three different sire males. Birth years are indicated at the bottom.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Boxplot of the frequency of head rubbing for each sex classs dyad.
Bold lines indicate medians and circles denote outliers.
Figure 4
Figure 4. Boxplot of the frequency of licking for each sex classs dyad.
Bold lines indicate medians.
Figure 5
Figure 5. Distribution of head rubbing among all individuals.
Each dyad is plotted on a plane according to the summed frequency of head rubbing given by one lion to the other, and vice versa. The cumulative number of dyads is indicated by the height.
Figure 6
Figure 6. Distribution of licking among females.
Each dyad is plotted on a plane according to the summed frequency of licking given by one lion to the other, and vice versa. The cumulative number of dyads is indicated by the height.

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Publication types

Grant support

This study was financially supported by PRESTO (Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST)), Hayama Center for Advanced Studies, and The Center for the Promotion of Integrated Sciences at The Graduate University for Advanced Studies. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
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