Having daddy around when they are growing up is good for little girls — even if they are little baboon girls. While that's well known for people, it's a bit of a surprise for non-human primates.
But a report in Monday's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that female baboons in Kenya raised in groups with their fathers matured earlier and had a longer reproductive life than other baboons.
Males had not been thought to be engaged in a level of care that would make any difference to their offspring, said Susan Alberts, an associate professor of biology at Duke University.
Alberts and colleagues studied groups of yellow baboons living near Kenya's Mt. Kilimanjaro. In these groups both males and females have several partners.
The presence of the father in a group gave the daughters a jump-start on sexual maturity, a measure of fitness, the researchers said.
"For young females, because their major opponents in life are adult females and fellow juveniles, the presence of any adult male may be helpful," Alberts said in a statement.
Baboons do not share food after their mothers cease nursing, but the father's presence during early maturity may still help daughters get more to eat if the father reduces any harassment of their offspring.
"Sons also experienced accelerated maturation if their father was present during their immature period, but only if their father was high-ranking at the time of their birth," the researchers found.
For sons, the major competition for food is other males, so only the presence of a high-ranking father would help, the researchers said.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and a Marie Curie Outgoing Fellowship.