Grooming interventions in female rhesus macaques as social niche construction


Social animals invest time and resources into building and adapting their social environment, which emerges not only from their own but also from the decisions of other group members. Thus, individuals have to monitor interactions between others and potentially decide when and how to interfere to prevent damage to their own investment. These interventions can be subtle, as in the case of affiliative interactions such as grooming, but they can inform us about how animals structure their world and influence other group members. Here, we used interventions into grooming bouts in 29 female rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) to determine who intervened into which grooming bouts, why, and what determined intervention outcomes, based on kinship, dominance rank, and affiliative relationships between groomers and (potential) interveners. Using 1132 grooming bouts and 521 interventions, we show that high dominance rank of groomers reduced the risk of intervention. Bystanders, particularly when high-ranking, intervened in grooming of their kin, close affiliates, and close-ranked competitors. Interveners gained access to their close affiliates for subsequent grooming. Affiliative relationship and rank determined intervention outcomes, with reduced aggression risk facilitating grooming involving three individuals. Thus, interventions in this species involved the monitoring of grooming interactions, decision-making based on several individual and dyadic characteristics, and potentially allowed individuals to broaden their access to grooming partners, protect their own relationships, and influence their social niche. © 2020 The Author(s)