BBC Nature


Abused baby boobies grow up to abuse other chicks: Chicks abused by older birds are more likely to grow up to become abusers themselves, scientists have found. It is the first evidence from a wild animal that, as in humans, “child abuse” can be socially transmitted down the generations. Details of the discovery are published in the journal The Auk by Martina Müller, David Anderson and colleagues from Wake Forest University, North Carolina, US. “The maltreatment of nestlings by adults is really obvious,” Dr Anderson told BBC Nature. “Essentially all nestlings experience some maltreatment.”

“The link we found indicates that nestling experience, and not genetics, influences adult behavior,” said Dr Anderson. He suspects that being a victim of abuse raises levels of stress hormones, and these hormonal levels later trigger aggressive behavior, completing the cycle of violence. “The cycle of violence effect may be a widespread cause of variation in the social behavior of vertebrates, having been identified in humans in semi-natural conditions, Nazca boobies in natural conditions, and several mammals in artificial captive conditions,” Dr Anderson told BBC Nature.

“The Nazca booby model may be very useful for studies of the phenomenon, especially manipulative studies, that cannot be done with humans.”

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