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Background: Adults play an important role in regulating the social behaviour of young individuals. However, a few pioneer studies suggest that, more than the mere presence of adults, their proportions in social groups affect the social development of young. Here, we hypothesized that aggression rates and social cohesion were correlated to adult-young ratios. Our biological model was naturally-formed groups of Przewalski horses, Equus f. przewalskii, varying in composition.

Methodology/Principal Findings: We investigated the social interactions and spatial relationships of 12 one- and two-yearold Przewalski horses belonging to five families with adult-young ratios (AYR) ranging from 0.67 to 1.33. We found striking variations of aggression rates and spatial relationships related to the adult-young ratio: the lower this ratio, the more the young were aggressive, the more young and adults segregated and the tighter the young bonded to other young.

Conclusion/Significance: This is the first study demonstrating a correlation between adult-young ratios and aggression rates and social cohesion of young individuals in a naturalistic setting. The increase of aggression and the emergence of social segregation in groups with lower proportions of adults could reflect a related decrease of the influence of adults as regulators of the behaviour of young. This social regulation has both theoretical and practical implications for understanding the modalities of the influence of adults during ontogeny and for recommending optimal settings, as for instance, for schooling or animal group management.


Copyright: © 2009 Bourjade et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.