Université de Strasbourg

USIAS Fellows seminar - Social environment, stress and evolutionary success

March 12, 2020
From 15:30 until 17:00
Salle de la Table Ronde, MISHA

By Stephen Dobson (2018 Fellow) and Vincent Viblanc (host, IPHC)

See a short video about this research (Le Monde, 31 January 2020)

Socially stressed? Effects of the social environment on the behaviour, physiology, and reproduction of Columbian ground squirrels

For those having walked through the crowds, such as for example during the world-famous Strasbourg Christmas market, the effects of population density on social stress and individuals’ physiology may intuitively seem clear (do you put your hand on your wallet?). Indeed, many empirical studies show how population density might influence the biology and ecology of species throughout the animal kingdom.  However, only few studies have looked specifically at how social environments may affect stress levels in individual animals, which in turn affect behavioural, physiological and biological characteristics of individuals and groups. 

Meaning, how does stress get under the skin, and what are the long-term consequences of stress for future generations? We present novel findings on the relationship between social environment and individual stress, based on our study of Columbian ground squirrels, a colonial rodent inhabiting the meadows of the Rocky Mountains of Canada. We show that female ground squirrels benefit from the presence of close family members, close kin, in their surroundings.  Nearby close kin allow females to reduce social aggression, and devote more energy and resources to reproduction. Such benefits are immediate, but also evolutionary.  The advantage of close kin translates into higher reproductive success both annually and over lifetimes, and appears to have subtle links to individual stress. The presence of kin seems to lower female stress during lactation, but only under specific conditions. In turn, female stress during lactation appears to affect offspring early in life, possibly accelerating DNA aging patterns during early growth.

More information on the USIAS project of Stephen Dobson: Alleviating social stress: effects of social buffers on ageing in wild mammals

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