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ScienceShot: It's Lonely—And Stressful—At the Top

14 July 2011 2:00 pm
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For savanna baboons (Papio cynocephalus), ruling a banana republic comes at a price. A new analysis of fecal samples reveals that these alpha males have higher levels of stress hormones than their immediate underlings and similar levels to low-ranked monkey serfs. The findings, reported online today in Science, challenge the prevailing thinking among primate scientists, who believe that—outside of times of social upheaval, during which cocky upstarts dispose more dominant males—alphas should live in stress-free bliss. But savanna baboons may not have the time to sip cocktails. In these societies, the rank-and-file frequently topple their leaders, so the top dogs scuffle much more than subordinates to hold onto power. Such constant stress can hamper the immune response and monkey health, potentially holding these kings back from siring as many offspring as they should.

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