New research reveals that hyenas inherit their social networks and social status from their mothers.
Hyenas are a highly social species, living in groups that can number more than 100. Within their clans, there is order: A specific matrilineal hierarchy governs societies in this species where females are dominant to males.
A new study examined 27 years of detailed observations of hyena social behavior collected by researchers at Michigan State University. Field biologists had meticulously tracked how hyenas in a clan interacted, including who spent time with whom as well as the social rank of each member. To do so, researchers spent months getting to know each member of the clan by sight. With this picture of each individual’s social affiliations in hand, the researchers compared the social networks of mothers to their offspring.
Hyena cubs stick close to their mothers for the first couple years of life, so the networks of mothers and their offspring were quite similar to start. However, the researchers noticed that even as the young stopped spending so much time in close proximity to their mothers they still sustained quite similar networks, particularly for female offspring, who generally remain members of the clan for life.
The findings revealed that hyenas inherit their mother’s social networks, so their social connections resemble their mother’s. More importantly, the data revealed that offspring of higher-ranking individuals more often replicate their mother’s interactions, winding up with social networks that more closely resemble their mother’s than do offspring of females that rank lower on the clan’s social ladder. Social rank also had an effect on survivorship and reproductive success.
Journal Reference: Amiyaal Ilany, Kay E. Holekamp, Erol Akçay. Rank-dependent social inheritance determines social network structure in spotted hyenas. Science, 2021; 373 (6552): 348 DOI: 10.1126/science.abc1966