Cameron, E. Z., Setsaas, T. H., & Linklater, W. L. (2009). Social bonds between unrelated females increase reproductive success in feral horses. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A., 106(33), 13850–13853.
Abstract: In many mammals, females form close social bonds with members of their group, usually between kin. Studies of social bonds and their fitness benefits have not been investigated outside primates, and are confounded by the relatedness between individuals in primate groups. Bonds may arise from kin selection and inclusive fitness rather than through direct benefits of association. However, female equids live in long-term social groups with unrelated members. We present 4 years of behavioral data, which demonstrate that social integration between unrelated females increases both foal birth rates and survival, independent of maternal habitat quality, social group type, dominance status, and age. Also, we show that such social integration reduces harassment by males. Consequently, social integration has strong direct fitness consequences between nonrelatives, suggesting that social bonds can evolve based on these direct benefits alone. Our results support recent studies highlighting the importance of direct benefits in maintaining cooperative behavior, while controlling for the confounding influence of kinship.