Many mammalian societies are structured by dominance hierarchies, and an individual's position within this hierarchy can influence reproduction, behaviour, physiology and health. In nepotistic hierarchies, which are common in cercopithecine primates and also seen in spotted hyaenas, Crocuta crocuta, adult daughters are expected to rank immediately below their mother, and in reverse age order (a phenomenon known as 'youngest ascendancy'). This pattern is well described, but few studies have systematically examined the frequency or causes of departures from the expected pattern. Using a longitudinal data set from a natural population of yellow baboons, Papio cynocephalus, we measured the influence of maternal kin, paternal kin and group size on female rank positions at two life history milestones, menarche and first live birth. At menarche, most females (73%) ranked adjacent to their family members (i.e. the female held an ordinal rank in consecutive order with other members of her maternal family); however, only 33% of females showed youngest ascendancy within their matriline at menarche. By the time they experienced their first live birth, many females had improved their dominance rank: 78% ranked adjacent to their family members and 49% showed youngest ascendancy within their matriline. The presence of mothers and maternal sisters exerted a powerful influence on rank outcomes. However, the presence of fathers, brothers and paternal siblings did not produce a clear effect on female dominance rank in our analyses, perhaps because females in our data set co-resided with variable numbers and types of paternal and male relatives. Our results also raise the possibility that female body size or competitive ability may influence dominance rank, even in this classically nepotistic species. In total, our analyses reveal that the predictors of dominance rank in nepotistic rank systems are much more complex than previously thought.
Keywords: Papio cynocephalus; baboon; female dominance rank; kin support; nepotistic dominance hierarchy.