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Friends and enemies 'make sense' for long-lived animals - University of Exeter

Hyenas are slow-lived and have complex social structures (credit Dave Hudson)
Hyenas are slow-lived and have complex social structures (credit Dave Hudson)

It makes evolutionary sense for long-lived animals to have complex social relationships – such as friends and enemies – researchers say.

Some species and individuals focus their energy on reproduction (live fast, die young), while "slow-living" animals prioritise survival and tend to live longer lives.

In the new paper, University of Exeter scientists argue that natural selection favours complex social structures among slow-living animals – meaning that knowing their friends and enemies is easier for animals with longer lifespans, and helps them live even longer.

Meanwhile, fast-lived species should only bother with such social relationships if it increases their chances of reproduction.

"Slow-living species can afford to invest in social relationships, as they live long enough to enjoy the pay-offs," said Professor Dave Hodgson, Director of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall. "There is strong evidence that strong social bonds are beneficial for survival in slow-living species, including humans. We suggest there is a 'positive feedback' – certain social behaviours lead to a longer life, and longer lifespan promotes the development of social bonds."

Professor Hodgson said there is "growing evidence" that differentiated social relationships have a bigger positive effect on survival than on reproduction.

As a result, fast-lived species do not gain the same evolutionary advantages from social relationships as slow-lived species.

Read the paper here

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