Dominant behavior in female hyenas may be linked to securing food for young
Researchers in the Holekamp laboratory believe that female dominance among spotted hyenas could have evolved from a female hyena's need to secure food for her young in a highly competitive feeding environment.
Their research data compares the skulls and jaw musculature of young, post-weaned hyenas with that of hyenas with more fully developed skulls and jaws -- important, particularly for cracking bones to obtain food from a carcass. Within a hyena clan there is often competition for food, where a single carcass may be rapidly devoured by many hyenas within a short period of time. A young hyena with a still-developing skull and jaws is thus at a disadvantage. The mother hyena may need to compensate for her cub by using dominant or aggressive behaviors to help secure food for her young. Holekamp researchers believe that this aggressive or dominant maternal behavior may be linked to the evolution of female dominance in hyena clans.
Professor Holekamp was joined in her research by zoology professor Barbara Lundrigan, curator of mammalogy and ornithology at the MSU Museum, and also Heather Watts and Jaime Tanner, former Ph.D graduate students of the Holekamp laboratory.
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