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We know that almost all cats are solitary. How did the Lions (Panthera leo) end up social animals? Do we have an explanatory evolutionary path describing how the Lions became social while the rest of the felines remained solitary?

I'm not asking what general rules apply to evolution, but, rather - what evolutionary path has led to this specific outcome. I know a bit of evolutionary game theory. No need to reiterate the obvious. I'm asking if we know the mechanism or the evolutionary pressure in this particular case.

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    $\begingroup$ Evolution does not have a reason. It just happens. So any question on "why such or such a thing happened", tends to be purely philosophical. You can edit your question to make it precise and non-phiosophical. For e.g. you can ask if socialization increases the survival probability of lions in the environment that they live in i.e. the savannas. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Aug 2 '15 at 9:12
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    $\begingroup$ I think biology.stackexchange.com/questions/35532/… is the reverse. That is the sort of question targeting "why haven't all predators evolved poison-slash-high speed running capability-slash-guns-slash-more nonsensical stuff?" This question seems well researched (I have a cat and, oh my, is she solitary!) and seems to make sense. For example, investigations on fossils tends to include the interpretation of geographical grouping (did they form herds?) etc. I vote to leave open. I'm not an evolutionary expert, though. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Aug 2 '15 at 10:19
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    $\begingroup$ I guess it has to do with the failure of dogs and wolves to be able to take down large prey animals in Africa, so that left the door open for felines like lions and hyenas to collaborate and hunt for big prey animals. $\endgroup$ – Count Iblis Aug 2 '15 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ @mousomer It is also very difficult to ascertain what kind of pressure would have selected a socializing trait in lions. This also tends to be speculative. I guess most grassland animals are social, even cheetahs. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Aug 3 '15 at 5:26
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, to me it seems like the perfect excuse we "scientific evolved sapiens" tend to make to masque the obvious which is: "we-don't-know, we-can-make-a-stupid-guess-and-call-it-educated-and-if-its-made-by-some-renowned-author/scientist-it-will-be-professed-as-truth". $\endgroup$ – sergio Aug 3 '15 at 13:51
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This is not a direct answer to your question, but I want to point out that your basic premise is partially incorrect. Other felines also form social groups. For instance, male cheetahs form coalitions (also see Cheetah outreach at http://www.cheetah.co.za/c_info.html), often for life, which generally makes them more successful in defending territories. Female feral cats also form social groups in some environments (see e.g. Natoli et al, 2007), where females sometimes co-rear kittens. There is even evidence that tigers share kills with related or unrelated individuals (see Wikipedia: Tiger for examples), and tiger home ranges can overlap in complex ways. On the other hand, lions (both males and females) are sometimes solitary, and this partially interacts with their living environment.

My point is mainly that sociality (in general or in felines in particular) is not either/or for a particular species, and other felines also show social behaviours and sometimes form groups (so sociality should be viewed as a sliding scale). Granted, lions are definitely the feline with the strongest social behaviors, and they form the largest social groups. It is therefore interesting to think about why that is the case, and what group dynamics and tradeoffs that determine the social behaviours of lions.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think it's actually a direct answer: there is no explanation to find for a non-existent fact. $\endgroup$ – biozic Aug 4 '15 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ @biozic I definitely think that the Q should be rephrased and stated in less either/or terms. However, to look at the evolution of sociality in relatives of lions, as well as the costs/benefits of social behaviour in lions would still be interesting. To ask for the specific evolutionary path and its reasons is asking a lot though. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Aug 4 '15 at 14:32
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I agree with some comments that have been made on the validity of the wording used by OP. However there is a legitimate thrust to the question. What could drive Lion sociality?

Females are the base unit of lion social groups. Males are generally the nomadic sex. Male lions will try to take over a group of females by killing the current cubs and mating with the females. By having groups of females they can drive off males that are not related to their offspring.

Males are equally rewarded for banding together to defend females and to subdue larger groups of females or other bands of males. Lion packs are therefore formed by these antagonistic interaction between male and female lions. More research is needed!

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/000334729580157X

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In brittle environments we often find very large range lands(grasslands, savanna etc) that are inhabited by mixed mega herds of numerous, large, grazing herbivores. It takes pack hunters to successfully predate upon these herds. Note that all the apex predators in the more densely forested biomes of non brittle environments are solitary hunters(Tiger, Jaguar, Bear etc). Remember that various sub species of Panthers leo once roamed from Africa, across Eurasia and into North America. There are many extinct Panthera species too.

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