Rank-dependent social inheritance determines social network structure in spotted hyenas

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Science  16 Jul 2021:
Vol. 373, Issue 6552, pp. 348-352
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc1966

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Mother knows best

Inheritance of social status, and its associated costs and benefits, is well demonstrated in humans. Whether such an intergenerational system occurs in other species is harder to demonstrate. Ilany et al. looked at nearly 30 years of social interaction data in spotted hyenas, a female-dominated system with a highly structured society, and found that status inheritance is just as prominent (see the Perspective by Firth and Sheldon). Juvenile hyenas had social associations that were similar to their mothers, and the strength of the association was higher for higher-status mothers. Importantly, survival was associated with social inheritance, suggesting that these social roles are essential to hyena life.

Science, abc1966, this issue p. 348; see also abj5234, p. 274


The structure of animal social networks influences survival and reproductive success, as well as pathogen and information transmission. However, the general mechanisms determining social structure remain unclear. Using data from 73,767 social interactions among wild spotted hyenas collected over 27 years, we show that the process of social inheritance determines how offspring relationships are formed and maintained. Relationships between offspring and other hyenas bear resemblance to those of their mothers for as long as 6 years, and the degree of similarity increases with maternal social rank. Mother-offspring relationship strength affects social inheritance and is positively correlated with offspring longevity. These results support the hypothesis that social inheritance of relationships can structure animal social networks and be subject to adaptive tradeoffs.

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