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Animal behaviour

Female elephants inherit social roles

Female elephants fill their mothers' social roles after a matriarch dies, making pachyderm networks resilient to the effects of poaching.

Credit: Thomas Mangelsen/Minden Pictures/FLPA

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are organized in family groups of females, which are linked together to form 'bond' groups and loosely affiliated clans. Shifra Goldenberg at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and her team analysed the animals' female social networks in Kenyan reserves over 16 years. There was a roughly 70% turnover in adult females from poaching and natural causes, but the overall female-led social structure persisted.

The researchers found that daughters took up their mothers' positions in networks when mothers died, and emulated their patterns of contact with other elephants. This 'network resilience' is postulated by network theory but is rarely observed in nature, the authors say.

Curr. Biol. (2015)

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Female elephants inherit social roles. Nature 528, 438 (2015).

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