Alpha males don’t have it as good as beta males who finish 2nd

New York, July 15: A study on baboons has found that while the alpha male may have all the power, it is the beta male who does better, as being at the top comes with many health problems.

Laurence R. Gesquiere, a research associate in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, and colleagues found that in five troops of wild baboons in Kenya studied over nine years, alpha males showed very high stress levels, as high as those of the lowest-ranking males.

The stress, they suggested, was probably because of the demands of fighting off challengers and guarding access to fertile females, while beta males, who fought less and had considerably less mate guarding to do, had much lower stress levels.

The new study showed that top-ranking males had higher levels of stress whether the social structure of their group was stable or in tumult.

Researchers collected faecal samples to measure levels of stress hormones called glucocorticoids.

Levels of stress are important partly because of the health effects of stress hormones. In the short term, in immediate fight-or-flight situations, the hormones work to energize the individual. Long-term stress levels are a different matter.

“In the long term, you fall apart, or are subject to diseases,” the New York Times quoted Jeanne Altmann, an emeritus professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, and senior author of the new report, as saying.

For humans, chronic long-term high levels of stress hormones can increase the risks of disease or worsen existing diseases.

Robert Sapolsky of Stanford, a neurobiologist, who did groundbreaking studies on stress in baboons, but was not involved in the new study, found that being an alpha and being a beta are very different experiences physiologically.

He and Robert M. Seyfarth of the University of Pennsylvania, who studies baboon and other primate behaviour, say the study certainly raises questions about possible unstudied costs of being at the top.

The findings have been reported in the journal Science. (ANI)