Let's unite in play! Play modality and group membership in wild geladas.

Affiliation

Gallo A(1), Caselli M(1), Norscia I(2), Palagi E(3).
Author information:
(1)University of Turin, Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology, Via Accademia Albertina 13, 10123, Torino, Italy.
(2)University of Turin, Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology, Via Accademia Albertina 13, 10123, Torino, Italy; Natural History Museum, University of Pisa, Via Roma 79, 56011, Calci, Pisa, Italy. Electronic address: [Email]
(3)Natural History Museum, University of Pisa, Via Roma 79, 56011, Calci, Pisa, Italy; Unit of Ethology, Department of Biology, University of Pisa, Via Alessandro Volta 6, 56126, Pisa, Italy. Electronic address: [Email]

Abstract

Two of the main hypotheses put forth to explain the function of immature social play are the Social Skill Hypothesis and the Motor Training Hypothesis focussing on whether play can improve social competence to develop cooperative social networks or physical abilities to outcompete others, respectively. Here, we tested these hypotheses on a monkey species, the wild gelada (Theropithecus gelada) from the Kundi plateau, Ethiopia. This species is organized in bands divided in One-Male Units (OMUs), united only via social play. Immatures form 'play units' in which individuals from the same and different OMUs interact. We analysed the potential differences between inter- and intra-OMU play to verify which of the two hypotheses (Social Skill or Motor Training Hypothesis) best explains the function of play in geladas. We analysed 527 video-recorded social play sessions and found mixed support for both hypotheses. In agreement with the Social Skill Hypothesis, we found that play in geladas shows scarce social canalization being similarly distributed across age, sex and group membership. In line with the Motor Training Hypothesis, we detected higher levels of competition (shorter and more unbalanced sessions) in inter-OMU compared to intra-OMU play. Hence, in geladas play can be a tool for both the development of social relationships and the improvement of the physical skills necessary to cope with either future mates or competitors. In conclusion, neither hypothesis can be discarded and both hypotheses concur in explaining why immature geladas peculiarly form 'play units' embracing both ingroup and outgroup members.