Evolutionary transitions toward pair living in nonhuman primates as stepping stones toward more complex societies

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Science Advances  18 Dec 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 12, eaay1276
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay1276


Nonhuman primate societies vary tremendously in size and composition, but how and why evolutionary transitions among different states occurred remains highly controversial. In particular, how many times pair living evolved and the social states of the ancestors of pair- and group-living species remains contentious. We examined evolutionary transitions in primate social evolution by using new, independent categorizations of sociality and different phylogenetic hypotheses with a vastly expanded dataset. Using Bayesian phylogenetic comparative methods, we consistently found the strongest support for a model that invokes frequent transitions between solitary ancestors and pair-living descendants, with the latter giving rise to group-living species. This result was robust to systematic variation in social classification, sample size, and phylogeny. Our analyses therefore indicate that pair living was a stepping stone in the evolution of structurally more complex primate societies, a result that bolsters the role of kin selection in social evolution.

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