In the field of animal behaviour research; social development and integration in primates is the focus of doctoral candidate Jonathan Jarrett’s research. Under the supervision of Louise Barrett, Jonathan’s doctoral thesis explores the development of social behaviours and integration into social grooming networks in juvenile vervet monkeys. Specifically, he explored the theory of social network “inheritance” in these young monkeys.
Very little is known about how juvenile primates integrate into adult social groups. A current theory is that juvenile vervet monkeys inherit their mother’s social network. To explore this “network inheritance”, Jonathan and his colleagues conducted their research at the Samara Private Game Reserve in South Africa where they followed and observed vervet monkeys from birth to adulthood. What they discovered is, as female juvenile monkeys developed, they increasingly groomed adults more, however this increased interest in grooming was not reciprocated by the adults themselves. They showed that maternal networks were generally not stable through time and thus presented their daughters with a moving target to try and match. However, those mothers with more stable social networks, generally had daughters who also had stable networks. In short, they found that female juveniles do not “inherit” the social connections of their mothers, but rather develop the ability to adapt to the changing social structure of their group. As described by Jonathan in his recent publication Network integration and limits to social inheritance in vervet monkeys, this “behavioural flexibility” allows vervet monkeys to cope with the changing interpersonal relationships within the social group.