A team of researchers studying rhesus macaques (monkeys) in Puerto Rico found that the primates made new social connections and shared resources in a surprising way after Hurricane Maria.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Exeter in the U.K. were already studying the monkeys in Cayo Santiago, nicknamed Monkey Island, when the hurricane hit in 2017. The monkeys, an Asian species, were brought to the Puerto Rican archipelago in 1938 and thrived on their tiny 38-acre island.
The territorial primates didn’t just stick with their allies after the hurricane denuded trees and bushes. Instead, the monkeys expanded their social networks and became tolerant of each other, the researchers reported. For example, they allowed more animals to share space under a shady tree.
Animals that had been most socially isolated formed more connections, typically with friends of friends. The scientists hypothesized that the animals can respond to major events and adapt to extreme environmental change by forming new relationships.
Three years later, those connections have stuck. The monkeys continued to groom and hang out together.
Science Focus Magazine said the researchers next want to study the long-term effects of making new social connections, which could help them understand how humans cope during extreme challenges. Social relationships have a large impact on human health, they said, though it is still unclear how they specifically affects the body.