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More recently, baboons were also established as a promising model for studying the impact of sexually transmitted diseases on mating behavior. These findings highlight how pathogens may impose important selective pressures in mate choice and ultimately social evolution. The addition of data on Kinda and Guinea baboons increases the value of the baboon as a model, as we begin to have data available for all baboon species. While one aim of future analyses will be to understand the sources of variation between species, documenting similarities is equally valuable.

Technological developments in genomic sequencing Robinson et al. Given the close phylogenetic relatedness of the six baboon species, variation in key aspects of social behavior, and the presence of hybrids displaying intermediate phenotypes within hybrid zones, investigation of causal pathways from genotype to phenotype seems particularly promising within the baboon model Bergey et al.

Formerly, research into primate behavioral genetics focused on identifying a few small specific functional polymorphisms in sequence or length, and on linking these to phenotypic variation e. However, such studies are likely to overestimate the effect of one single aspect of genetic variation. With genotyping of single nucleotide polymorphisms SNPs , and whole-genome sequencing, primate field studies are beginning to explore the wider genomic architecture that underlies variation in social behavior Rogers, As well as whole genome sequence data, researchers now have access to annotations for protein coding genes and transcriptomes Robinson et al.

We therefore expect an exponential increase in the number and diversity of available genomes, which will facilitate the investigation of the basis of baboon adaptations and adaptive flexibility.

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In conjunction with research on other model organisms, such as deer mice Bedford and Hoekstra, , such studies provide fundamental insights into the foundation of natural variation and adaptation in socially living mammals. Baboons allow us to study the effects of accelerating anthropogenic fragmentation, loss of natural habitats and climate change in a highly adaptable primate system.

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For example, baboons may rapidly change how long they allocate time and energy to different behaviors or where they range, in response to human-related activities and habitat changes Fehlmann et al. Studies of individual baboon behavior can use sophisticated GPS tracking and non-invasive genetic tools to make broad-scale inferences about movements and processes at the population level Kopp et al. These inferences can then be applied to questions of how other large populations of mammals will respond to changes in their environment.

Baboons are not considered a global priority in conservation, with the exception of Guinea baboons which are categorized as Near Threatened by the IUCN Oates et al. However, populations geographically overlapping with human communities often damage crops and infrastructure and are persecuted as pests. In some locations, people consume substantial number of baboons and sell their meat in bushmeat markets e. Humans and baboons often compete for space and hunting of specific individuals or even entire groups is increasingly frequent, leading to fragmented populations and local extinctions Ferreira da Silva et al.

Non-monitored populations living outside protected areas may be at a higher risk of silently disappearing. The challenge is to assess the risk of different populations and develop appropriate conservation plans. The long-term nature of many baboon field studies has provided great insight into how populations may rise and fall rapidly in response to changes in the environment.

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The Amboseli Baboon Project, for example, has been running continuously for 50 years, and has documented numerous periods of relative drought or rainfall abundance Alberts et al. This variation in precipitation has been linked to variation in fecundity and survival Beehner et al. Periods of environmental change, and consequent boom and bust cycles in populations, are driven by both natural phenomena, such as natural aging of woodland, and anthropogenic influences, such as overgrazing by pastoralists Alberts and Altmann, Many long-term baboon field sites also carefully collect detailed data on temperature and rainfall, as well as food availability and diseases.

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They also monitor the habitats in addition to the baboon populations. The breadth and scope of such data ensure that the baboon represents an outstanding model of both individual-level and population-level responses to environmental change. Baboons constitute a fascinating and informative analog model for hominin evolution in savanna habitats, with their ongoing patterns of range expansions and contractions, and regular occurrences of hybridization where two species meet.

Given the availability of long-term data and the variation in the types of societies baboons live in, they constitute an excellent test case to study the link between sociality, health, longevity and reproductive success, as well as the emergence and spread of diseases. Such studies are extremely important to put biomedical data from captive baboon studies into natural context. For future research, we propose an approach that integrates field observations and carefully designed field experiments with cutting-edge measures of genomic variation, gene expression, non-invasive endocrinology and immunology.

The fact that baboons have been studied in a wide range of habitats at sites across Africa for several decades also make them an informative example to investigate how populations of large mammals respond to environmental diversity and change see Box 2 for suggested future research questions. How have changes in population density and environmental conditions e. What is the genetic architecture of baboon social behavior including social style, patterns of dispersal, and degree of reproductive skew according to social status?

How does that architecture promote or restrict evolutionary flexibility in social systems?


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Does the link between sociality and reproductive success vary among species or even local populations? Do the different species vary in the way they represent the social relationships around them and how they attend to social information? How responsive are baboons to changes in temperature patterns due to global warming, as well as to associated changes in aridity or habitat type? In the interests of transparency, eLife includes the editorial decision letter and accompanying author responses. A lightly edited version of the letter sent to the authors after peer review is shown, indicating the most substantive concerns; minor comments are not usually included.

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Thank you for submitting your article "The Natural History of Model Organisms: Insights into the evolution of social systems and species from baboon studies" for consideration by eLife. Your article has been reviewed by two peer reviewers, and the evaluation has been overseen by two Features Editors at eLife Stuart King and Peter Rodgers. The following individual involved in review of your submission has agreed to reveal their identity: Jason Kamilar. The reviewers have discussed the reviews with one another and the Associate Features Editor has drafted this decision to help you prepare a revised submission.

Overall, it was a pleasure to read this clear summary of current knowledge about the natural history of baboons. The manuscript is a wide-ranging, authoritative, and interesting read.


The authors have done an excellent job of concisely presenting an overview of baboon biology and its relevance for being considered a model organism in ecology and evolution. The reviewers expect this paper to be highly cited and look forward to seeing it published after a few revisions are made. The hope is that the revisions will provide some more context for readers who are less familiar with baboon research, and help condense the article slightly to make it more focused, which could help to increase its ultimate impact.

In contrast, this paper focuses exclusively on research in the wild, on a set of species that are unusually well studied in their natural context. For the benefit of non-baboon researchers, it would be helpful if the Introduction acknowledged that baboons may seem to be an unusual choice for a model organism, but then explain what it is that makes them such a good model for certain questions i.

A mention of the rather extensive work on baboons in captivity, where they are among the most intensively studied non-human primates in biomedical science, would also be appreciated here. Work in the wild extends the scope of what the community can learn from baboons beyond captive research, and it would be interesting if the authors shared their thoughts as to whether it also helps to motivate the research done with captive baboons, or to interpret those results? Restructuring this text may also present opportunities to cut some text, because, for example, geographic ranges are currently discussed in three separate places.

Breaking the new section into short, clearly defined sub-sections i. Systematics, Morphology, Habitats, Diet etc. While this could be interesting and relevant to baboon evolution, none of the citations in this paragraph are actually about baboons. As such, it was unclear how baboons have contributed thus far to this question or even whether they would be better models than, say, humans or classical lab model organisms. Removing the text would help to keep the article focused. This change could help this later section to feel more integrated in the article, and would mean that the article's structure more closely follows the order of the research areas that are very nicely articulated in the Conclusion.

The Social Cognition section could also likely be condensed by a few sentences. It would be good if it could give more concrete examples of how, when applied to baboons, these methods could advance broad biological knowledge. If the section on "Baboons in the Anthropocene" is moved earlier in the text, this section would be the penultimate in the article. Alternatively, the authors should explicitly note that, compared to the other areas highlighted, there's much more to be done in this area of research. The Glossary can help with this, if the definitions provided are written to be as accessible as possibly.

Most importantly, the reviewers suggest explaining what "rank" is it first appears in the subsection "Variation in social organization and behavior" , whether it's sex-specific, and why it's important in baboons. Other cases include the use of the term "despotic" likely to be familiar to primatologists, but not to many others , mention of copulation calls why is it meaningful that they might differ in chacma baboons? We have followed this suggestion, and tried to be more explicit why this paper might be relevant for scientists who use baboons in biomedical research.

In the Introduction, we now write: "In the s, baboons became the subject of more systematic scientific enquiry, both in the field, and in captivity. We thought a lot about this suggestion, and have partly implemented it. Our reasoning was that we first introduce the taxon and then talk about the different species. We feel that we need to introduce this variation first before we go on to present species differences in Morphology etc. There are only two sentences on Diet, so we did not establish a new subsection.

We did, however, cut text in a number of places to avoid the highlighted redundancy. We understand this suggestion, but we believe that the "Baboons in the Anthropocene" section belongs as the final section, as it is prospective, and about the future of baboons. We have, however, edited the Conclusion such that the order there accurately reflects the order of the content.

We have followed this suggestion and have both integrated and shortened these two sections.

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Thank you for this suggestion. We now explicitly state that this is a research area on the cusp of blooming; we now state: "Researchers now have access to whole genome sequence data and other genomic information such as annotations for protein coding genes and transcriptome information Robinson et al. We therefore expect an exponential increase in the number and diversity of available genomes, which will facilitate the genomic investigation of the molecular and cellular basis of baboon adaptations and adaptive flexibility.

We are sorry that we sometimes used too much jargon. We now explain the concept of rank and why it is important. We also explain despotism, and have used more general terms whenever we felt we could e.

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We cut the African multi-regionalism hypothesis and simply refer to different hypotheses regarding human origins. We appreciate any further suggestions where we might remove further jargon that we may have overlooked. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication. This paper is dedicated to the memory of Dorothy L Cheney who loved baboons. We thank PJ Perry and the editors and reviewers, for valuable comments and suggestions. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

Article citation count generated by polling the highest count across the following sources: Crossref , PubMed Central , Scopus. Essays on the wild lives of model organisms, from Arabidopsis to the zebrafish. Cited 0 Views 1, Annotations Open annotations. The current annotation count on this page is being calculated. Cite this article as: eLife ;8:e doi: Article Figures and data Jump to Abstract Introduction Systematic classification and distribution Morphology Ecology Phylogeography Variation in social organization and behavior Variation in social cognition Sociality, health, aging and fitness Functional genomics Baboons in the Anthropocene Conclusion References Decision letter Author response Article and author information Metrics.

Box 1. Figure 1. Download asset Open asset.