Social Status Leaves Traces in Epigenome of Spotted Hyenas in Tanzania

Spotted hyenas resting at the communal den in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. (Credit: Photo by Sarah Benhaiem/Leibniz-IZW).

A research consortium led by scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) provide evidence that social behaviour and social status are reflected at the molecular level of gene activation (epigenome) in juvenile and adult free-ranging spotted hyenas. They analysed non-invasively collected gut epithelium samples from both high-ranking and low-ranking female hyenas and showed that rank differences were associated with epigenetic signatures of social inequality, i.e., the pattern of activation or switching off of genes that regulate important physiological processes such as energy conversion and immune response in several genome regions. The results, published in the scientific journal Communications Biology, contribute to a better understanding of the role of epigenetic mechanisms in the interplay of social, environmental and physiological factors in the life of a highly social mammal. The open-access article was published March 28, 2024 and is titledEpigenetic Signatures of Social Status in Female Free-Ranging Spotted Hyenas (Crocuta Crocuta).”

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