When it comes to advancing social status, it's not what you know, it's who you know -- for humans and spotted hyenas alike. In a new study, National Science Foundation-funded scientists show that hyenas that form strong coalitions can gain social status, which can have lasting benefits over many generations. Moving up the proverbial ladder can result in substantive differences in health, survival and reproductive success. So, with some animals, social rank is determined by individual fighting ability or physical attributes. Typically, low-ranked individuals are unable to defeat their larger or stronger, higher-ranked contemporaries. However, in other species, such as spotted hyenas, social rank is determined through a convention known as "maternal rank inheritance.” This structure can be compared to royal families. The queen sits at the top, and her offspring are the heirs to the throne. Spotted hyenas live in large, mixed-sex groups, or clans. They have highly stable hierarchies in which being a "queen" reaps many benefits. Sometimes, however, the crown is challenged, and "lesser" hyenas move up the ladder.
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