Passing on social status

An international team of scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin and the University of Sheffield have answered the following question: How is social status passed on in ...
one of the most social mammals, the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)? In this study, the researchers used observations of rare cases of adoption over the last twenty years among hyenas in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, in combination with the latest molecular techniques to identify genetic mothers. They were able to demonstrate that hyena mothers pass on their social status by supporting their young during social interactions with other group members.
In highly developed mammalian societies, like that of the spotted hyena, social status is even more important to survival and successful reproduction than environmental factors, predators or pathogens. A consequence of this is that parents try to pass on their status to their offspring.
In spotted hyenas, surrogate mothers adopt young cubs soon after their birth. The adopted cubs obtain a rank in adulthood that is similar to, or just below, that of their surrogate mother. The rank of the offspring is unrelated to the rank of their genetic mother.
The study showed that, during their upbringing, the young spotted hyenas learn from their mother which group members they can dominate. The mother does this by helping her young win contests against group members that have a lower rank than the mother. When the young become adults, they defend the position they obtained from their mother. And since social dominance provides certain benefits in spotted hyenas, they obtain the benefits that are linked to this position.