Hyena Study Shows How Social Support Networks Give Females Dominance

The dispersal habits of the male hyena means the females are dominant, leveraging support networks more effectively:

A new study on wild spotted hyaenas shows that in this social carnivore, females dominate males because they can rely on greater social support than males, not because they are stronger or more competitive in any other individual attribute. The main reason for females having, on average, more social support than males is that males are more likely to disperse and that dispersal disrupts social bonds.

Some had tried to postulate that female hyenas had male attributes, which led to dominance. Yet the researchers explain quite clearly that is not the case:

“When two hyaenas squabble, the one that can rely on greater social support wins, irrespective of sex, body mass or aggressiveness,” explains Oliver Hoener, head of the Ngorongoro Hyena Project of the Leibniz-IZW. Differences in social support between two individuals correctly predicted who will be the dominant in almost all encounters and in all contexts — between natives and immigrants, members of the same and different clans, residents and intruders, and individuals of the same and opposite sex. Female dominance thus emerges from females being more likely to receive greater social support than males. “What is so fascinating is that it all works without any direct involvement of other hyaenas,” says Colin Vullioud, Hoener’s colleague at Leibniz-IZW and first author of the study. “In the end, it’s all about assertiveness and how confident a hyaena is of receiving support if needed.”

This perhaps is reflected in results of the most recent American elections. Women with social support networks won a lot of contests with a positive support platform:

There will be a record number of women in the 116th Congress, and 67 percent of Americans feel positive about that, including about 4 in 10 who are excited about it.

Whereas at the same time, the women who adopted the U.S. Regime Leader’s aggressive “I grab” platform of self-puffery and alienation did not fare as well:

The number of Republican women in the House will actually decrease next year…