Beyond the Primates
Expanding the Reconciliation Horizon
Female squirrel Leftie spots male Corners approaching the site where she is feeding and immediately charges him. The male flees and zips into a nestbox. Ninety seconds later, Leftie climbs to sit on top of the box into which Corners disappeared and begins uttering soft, chirping calls. Corners can be heard calling antiphonally back out to Leftie, and soon his face is visible in the nestbox entrance. The two squirrels continue to exchange vocalizations for 40 seconds more. Then, Leftie bends over the top of the nestbox, “kisses” the male, and proceeds calmly away.
M. E. Pereira & J. Smith, unpublished observation
This beautiful description of an episode of possible reconciliation in eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) exemplifies the state of our knowledge on conflict resolution in non-primates: sparse (although insightful) observations, but very little quantitative data.
The first paper that dealt explicitly with reconciliation (i.e., a friendly reunion between former opponents) was published by de Waal & van Roosmalen in 1979. It soon appeared evident that reconciliation was a widespread phenomenon. Primatologists confirmed the existence of conciliatory mechanisms in one primate species after the other, from apes to lemurs (Appendix A).
In the 20 years that have elapsed since publication of the first paper on reconciliation, several authors (always primatologists) have suggested that reconciliation should be expected to occur also in non-primate species (e.g., de Waal 1986; Cords & Thurnheer 1993). The rest of the scientific community, however, did not respond to such suggestions, and we had to wait until 1993 to see the first papers that explicitly mentioned reconciliation in non-primates (East et al. 1993; Rowell & Rowell 1993) and 1998 for the first paper that actually presented data on post-conflict affiliation in a nonprimate (Schino 1998).
We may wonder about the reasons underlying this reluctance of nonprimatologists to tackle the issue of conflict resolution and relationship repair while among primatologists such research was flourishing.