A new study explored the dynamics of cooperation among male lions in the Gir Forest in India. It is a complicated process that is not common, since according to natural selection, males should be competing with one another for mates and food. This is especially true in unrelated individuals.
Studying Cooperation in Male Lions
The Asian lions in India’s Gir Forest are among the world’s rarest lions, surviving as one population.
Wildlife Institute of India biologists teamed up with biologists from the University of Minnesota to publish a new study in the journal Scientific Reports regarding male lion cooperation in the Gir lion group.
They found that kinship among the animals is not required for them to cooperate.
This study follows their 2017 research, where they investigated the nuances in male lion cooperation for better territorial protection and increased opportunities for mating.
According to the present study’s lead author and University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, & Conservation Biology post-doctoral research associate Stotra Chakrabarti, in the 2017 survey, they did not have genetic population data, which hindered them from finding out if this cooperative behavior was exhibited only with relatives or if it was also done with unrelated males.
Incorporating Genetic Data
To determine this, they thus monitored individuals and collected hair, blood, and tissue samples. With genetic and long-term behavioral data, they were able to assemble the baseline panel for determining their relatedness.
The research team observed 23 males within ten lion coalitions and found that males who belonged to broad associations (trios & quartets) usually were cousins or brothers.
They also found that over 70% of male pairs were unrelated. According to the University of Minnesota associate professor and co-author Joseph Bump, individuals of low rank in broad coalitions usually are barred from breeding opportunities. This is not favorable from the evolutionary standpoint unless one is giving way to their relatives.
Thus, Bump says, evidence shows that broad coalitions of male lions can only be feasible if the members are either cousins and or brothers.
As a grouping, broad coalitions are advantageous. But for individual fitness, which is determined by potential offspring numbers, pairing is more favorable. The latter is also better in acquiring mates and territory.
Coalition Better Than Going It Alone
The study showed that male coalitions are more prosperous than lions who are alone.
According to Wildlife Institute of India Dean and Gir Lion Project principal investigator Yadvendradev Jhala, large coalitions are rarely seen in Gir lions because very few siblings reach maturity. Only 12 to 13% of coalitions in this population have three to four males.
According to Bump, relatedness was not a factor in supporting one another in fights with other rivals. This shows the multifaceted nature of the mechanisms that facilitate lion cooperation.
According to Chakrabarti, it may be worth investigating more aspects of cooperation in male lions in the Gir Forest in India and other populations, such as how bonds get forged, how partners are sought; and how pairs meet establish dominance.
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