Unreciprocated allogrooming hierarchies in a population of wild group-living mammals

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Catherine E Nadin, David W. Macdonald, Sandra Baker, Christina D. Buesching, Stephen Ellwood, Chris Newman, Hannah L Dugdale 


Allogrooming can relate to social status in mammalian societies, and thus, be used to infer social structure. This relationship has previously been investigated by examining an individual’s dominance rank and their total amount of allogrooming. This, however, does not account for the identity of allogrooming partners. We applied a novel approach, calculating the linearity and steepness of unreciprocated allogrooming hierarchies using actor–receiver matrices in European badgers (Meles meles) groups. Badgers have relatively unstructured social groups compared to most group-living carnivores and allogrooming in badgers is currently hypothesized to have a hygiene function. We examine whether allogrooming is linked to social status by investigating: 1) the presence, linearity, and steepness of unreciprocated allogrooming hierarchies; 2) the trading of unreciprocated allogrooming for the potential benefit of receiving reduced aggression from dominant individuals; and, 3) whether unreciprocated allogrooming is associated with relatedness. We found weak unreciprocated allogrooming hierarchies, with marginal linearity, steepness overall, and variation between social-group-years. Unreciprocated allogrooming was positively correlated with directed aggression, potentially providing evidence for the trading of allogrooming for reduced aggression. Allogrooming was not correlated with relatedness, possibly due to high relatedness within social groups. Our findings reaffirm that European badgers have a relatively unstructured social system; likely reflecting a relatively simple state of sociality in Carnivores, with little need for hierarchical order. Using actor–receiver unreciprocated allogrooming matrices to test for linearity and steepness of unreciprocated allogrooming hierarchies in other social species will improve knowledge of group social structure.




Biology, Integrative Biology, Life Sciences


Biological Trade Model, directed aggression, linearity of hierarchies, relatedness, steepness of hierarchies, Unreciprocated allogrooming hierarchies


Published: 2021-08-06 11:26


CC-BY Attribution-No Derivatives 4.0 International