Term of Award

Summer 2008

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology (M.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Biology

Committee Chair

Bruce A. Schulte

Committee Member 1

J. Michelle Cawthorn

Committee Member 2

James B. Claiborne


Female African elephants exhibit multiple levels of social organization with the family as the functional social unit. Families consist of related females and the oldest female is the matriarch. Related family groups that frequently fuse are termed kinship groups, led by the grand matriarch. I examined matriarch communication behavior across social context and their role in interactions between families at waterholes in Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa. I analyzed three hypotheses for matriarchal effects on group fitness: a) older matriarchs provide greater access to resources, b) older matriarchs lead more social groups, or c) there is no behavior-fitness relationship and differences in behavior represent behavioral signatures. Matriarch presence in an approaching family significantly increased the likelihood that agonistic interactions or pass away behavior occurred, rather than the most submissive turn back behavior. When more than one kinship group was present, 18 of 24 matriarchs performed chemosensory behaviors compared to 8 of 24 when only their kinship group was present. As the measure of fitness, the kinship calf-to-female ratio increased with grand matriarch age, and was weakly affected by waterhole use but not sociality. Kinship level behavioral signatures also were evident. Matriarchs influenced group interactions and fitness, and their chemosensory behavior increased in more complex social contexts.

Research Data and Supplementary Material