DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2022.0308 ISSN: 0962-8436

Demographic turnover can be a leading driver of hierarchy dynamics, and social inheritance modifies its effects

Eli D. Strauss
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology

Individuals and societies are linked through a feedback loop of mutual influence. Demographic turnover shapes group composition and structure by adding and removing individuals, and social inheritance shapes social structure through the transmission of social traits from parents to offspring. Here I examine how these drivers of social structure feedback to influence individual outcomes. I explore these society-to-individual effects in systems with social inheritance of hierarchy position, as occur in many primates and spotted hyenas. Applying Markov chain models to empirical and simulated data reveals how demography and social inheritance interact to strongly shape individual hierarchy positions. In hyena societies, demographic processes—not status seeking—account for the majority of hierarchy dynamics and cause an on-average lifetime decline in social hierarchy position. Simulated societies clarify how social inheritance alters demographic effects—demographic processes cause hierarchy position to regress to the mean, but the addition of social inheritance modifies this pattern. Notably, the combination of social inheritance and rank-related reproductive success causes individuals to decline in rank over their lifespans, as seen in the hyena data. Further analyses explore how ‘queens’ escape this pattern of decline, and how variation in social inheritance generates variability in reproductive inequality.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Evolutionary ecology of inequality’.

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