Decision letter | Habitat and social factors shape individual decisions and emergent group structure during baboon collective movement

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Habitat and social factors shape individual decisions and emergent group structure during baboon collective movement

Decision letter

Affiliation details

Princeton University, United States; Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Germany; University of Konstanz, Germany; University of Oxford, United Kingdom; University of California, Davis, United States; Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama
Catherine Carr, University of Maryland, United States

In the interests of transparency, eLife includes the editorial decision letter and accompanying author responses. A lightly edited version of the letter sent to the authors after peer review is shown, indicating the most substantive concerns; minor comments are not usually included.

Thank you for submitting your article "Habitat structure shapes individual decisions and emergent group structure in collectively moving wild baboons" for consideration by eLife. Your article has been favorably evaluated by Eve Marder (Senior Editor) and three reviewers, one of whom is a member of our Board of Reviewing Editors. The reviewers have opted to remain anonymous.

The reviewers have discussed the reviews with one another and the Reviewing Editor has drafted this decision to help you prepare a revised submission

The consensus among your reviewers is that your manuscript, on how habitat structure shapes individual decisions and emergent group structure in collectively moving wild baboons, has a well-developed approach to collective behavior, but that you have rather oversold the novelty of your approach. We think that your manuscript would benefit from a more explicit exploration of your results.

One reviewer notes several major concerns. First, there were no specific hypotheses tested in this study, other than the expectation that both social and habitat factors influence individual movement and collective patterns. Both reviewers think it possible that your manuscript could be revised to focus on some hypotheses, for example, about why different features of the habitat are important. In general, eLife does not send authors back to collect more data, but a more focused analysis could be beneficial.


Your reviewers would like to see a more explicit, hypothesis driven exploration of your results, to explore what features of the habitat influence the group coordination. A second major concern is that your claims of technical advances are not well supported.

Essential revisions:

Technical advances are shared by, for example.

Vanak AT et al. 2013. Moving to stay in place: behavioral mechanisms for coexistence of African large carnivores. Ecology 94, 2619- 2631.

Latombe G et al. 2013. Spatiotemporal dynamics in the response of woodland caribou and moose to the passage of gray wolf. J. Anim. Ecol. 83, 185- 198.

Potts, J. R., Mokross, K., & Lewis, M. A. (2014). A unifying framework for quantifying the nature of animal interactions. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 11(96), 20140333.

This should be addressed.

At present, the approaches used to link habitat and collective movement are not really compelling. There is concern about your metrics describing collective movement, and how they might be influenced by habitat variables. Since groups can be in different types of habitats, especially at your spatial resolution, you might instead model the collective movement metrics in response to habitat variables. Similarly, it is not clear why you have compared environmental contexts for roads and environmental density but not for other variables.

The leader – follower measure seems largely disconnected from issues of resource availability. Does this imply that baboons are ecologically extreme in some sense such that group cohesion consistently trumps concerns about resource exhaustion and trailing individuals 'losing out' to those they follow through the landscape? Such issues of resource access relative to intra-group position are a fundamental tenet in other studies of the movement of primate groups. Alternatively, are the landscapes simply so lush that there is no risk of resource limitation among group members? Your reviewers would like to see some explanation for this primacy of group cohesion over other considerations.

There is a concern about the short time-duration of their analyzed tracking data. You might include more discussion of why the significant habitat parameters may be biologically important for baboons, more background on the socioecology of olive baboons, and address what could be added with a longer study period.