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Anthropology Primatology
by
Christina J. Campbell

Introduction

Primatology, the scientific study of the members of the order Primates is, by its very nature, a multidisciplinary field, encompassing information gathered by scientists in many academic fields including, but not limited to, anthropology, zoology, psychology, and biology. Typically the term primatology is used in reference to the study of nonhuman primates, thus excluding our own species and those fossil species belonging to our closest extinct relatives. Primatologists may study their subjects in natural situations—i.e., where the study animals are free ranging in their natural habitat—in zoological gardens, captive research facilities, or rehabilitation centers (where previously captive animals are being geared toward release into either a truly wild habitat or a provisioned one).

Historical Background

Primate studies have a rich and diverse history. There have been many changes in the theoretical basis underpinning primatological research, and these changes are often reflected in the types of studies conducted (reviewed in Sussman 2011). During the 1980s, one of the biggest influences was an increase in the number of women in the field and the rising critique of the then male-centric ideologies of the field (Fedigan 1982, Sperling 1991). A movement away from natural history studies to more hypothesis-driven research has characterized the most recent twenty years in the field (Strier 2003, Sussman 2011). Additionally, an increase in range of taxa being studied has challenged preconceived notions about the ubiquity of many traits and behaviors (Strier 1994).

  • Fedigan, L. M. 1982. Primate paradigms: Sex roles and social bonds. Montreal: Eden.

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    This book provides a critique of the male-centric nature of primatological studies prior to its publication, stressing the importance of females in primate social groups and evolution.

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  • Sperling, S. 1991. Baboons with briefcases vs. langurs in lipstick: Feminism and functionalism in primate studies. In Gender at the crossroads of knowledge: Feminist anthropology in the postmodern era. Edited by M. di Leonardo, 204–234. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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    This book chapter discusses the history of feminism in primatological studies. It also provides a feminist critique of sociobiology.

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  • Strier, K. B. 1994. Myth of the typical primate. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 37:233–271.

    DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.1330370609Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this article, the author challenges the notion that terrestrial old-world monkeys are typical and reviews data on kinship, aggression, and sex across the primate order to show that there is no such thing as a “typical” primate. Available online for purchase.

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  • Strier, K. B. 2003. Primate behavioral ecology: From ethnography to ethology and back. American Anthropologist 105.1: 16–27.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.2003.105.1.16Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article discusses the changing nature of primatological inquiry within the broader anthropological field. It compares the earlier field studies to those of human ethnographers and then discusses how the inclusion of ecology, phylogeny, and demography changed the direction of study. Available online for purchase.

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  • Sussman, R. W. 2011. A brief history of primate field studies. In Primates in perspective. 2d ed. Edited by C. J. Campbell, A. F. Fuentes, K. C. MacKinnon, R. Stumpf, and S. Bearder, 6–11. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This book chapter provides a timeline of primatological fieldwork and discusses changes in theoretical perspectives throughout the 20th century—illustrating how these changes have influenced the kinds of studies that were conducted.

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Taxonomy and Evolution

Primate taxonomy and evolution are topics that require their own bibliographic entries—as such only the most general and widely cited references are provided here. Classification is somewhat subjective, sometimes leading to disagreement among scientists. This is especially prevalent at the species level of taxonomy—Groves 2001 provides the most complete treatment of primate taxonomy available to date. Likewise, because the fossil record of primate evolution is incomplete, there are multiple interpretations of the existing data and scenarios of the evolutionary history of the primate. The most widely cited scenarios suggest that primate evolution involved predation on insects (Cartmill 1974), co-evolution with angiosperms (Sussman 1991), or a combination of both (Rasmussen 1990). Reviews of the available evidence and theories can be found in Fleagle 1999, Hartwig 2002, and Hartwig 2011.

General Overviews

University-level courses focusing specifically on nonhuman primates are typically taught under the banner of anthropology. In other disciplines (e.g., zoology, biology, psychology), primates usually are not the sole focus of courses. Books listed here function primarily as college-level texts (e.g., Dolhinow and Fuentes 1999, Falk 2000, Strier 2011) or as both textbook and reference sources for professional primatologists (e.g., Smuts, et al. 1987; Campbell, et al. 2011). Only the most recent editions of multi-edition volumes are listed.

Journals

Due to the multidisciplinary nature of primatological inquiry, publications concerning nonhuman primates can be found in a wide range of journals. The American Journal of Physical Anthropology publishes articles in all of the areas of physical anthropology, including primatology. Journals that publish only primatological-based research include American Journal of Primatology, International Journal of Primatology, Folia Primatologica, and Primates. Regional journals such as Neotropical Primates, African Primates, and Asian Primates Journal focus on current research on primates native to each of their respective regions. In addition to these journals, many important articles are also published in journals such as Animal Behavior, Behaviour, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, Hormones and Behavior, and others that are not included here.

Methods

The methods employed by researchers studying nonhuman primates vary depending on the specific academic field of inquiry from which the researchers hail. For example, studies that take place in a captive setting are far more likely to implement experimental manipulation than those occurring in a natural setting (see Martin and Bateson 2007 for a review). Field studies are largely observational, with sampling protocols now standardized as a result of Altmann 1974, which described and defined the various methods of sampling behaviors. Advances in technology have greatly expanded the types of questions that primatologists can hope to answer, especially in field-based studies (Campbell, et al. 2011; Di Fiore, et al. 2011; Vogel and Dominy 2011; and Wheaton, et al. 2011).

  • Altmann, J. 1974. Observational study of behavior: Sampling methods. Behaviour 49.3: 227–267.

    DOI: 10.1163/156853974X00534Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although almost forty years old, this pivotal piece is still the standard guide for how to sample primate behavioral data. Available online for purchase.

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  • Campbell, C. J., M. Crofoot, K. C. MacKinnon, and R. M. Stumpf. 2011. Behavioral data collection in primate field studies. In Primates in perspective. 2d ed. Edited by C. J. Campbell, A. F. Fuentes, K. C. MacKinnon, R. Stumpf, and S. Bearder, 6–11. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This book chapter discusses the methods used and technologies available to primatologists conducting behavioral studies in a field setting.

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  • Di Fiore, A., R. R. Lawler, and P. Gagneux. 2011. Molecular primatology. In Primates in perspective. 2d ed. Edited by C. J. Campbell, A. F. Fuentes, K. C. MacKinnon, R. Stumpf, and S. Bearder, 390–416. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This book chapter provides detailed explanations of the various molecular techniques used by primatologists and the types of questions that can be answered by using these techniques.

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  • Martin, P., and P. Bateson. 2007. Measuring behaviour: An introductory guide. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Guide to the principles and methods of collecting quantitative behavioral data.

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  • Vogel, E. R., and N. J. Dominy. 2011. Measuring ecological variables for primate field studies. In Primates in perspective. 2d ed. Edited by C. J. Campbell, A. F. Fuentes, K. C. MacKinnon, R. Stumpf, and S. Bearder, 367–377. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Overview of the methods used in studies of primate ecology.

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  • Wheaton, C. J., A. Savage, and B. L. Lasley. 2011. Advances in the understanding of primate reproductive endocrinology. In Primates in perspective. 2d ed. Edited by C. J. Campbell, A. F. Fuentes, K. C. MacKinnon, R. Stumpf, and S. Bearder, 377–389. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This book chapter outlines the physiological basis for the major endocrinological methods employed by primatologists. It also provides a comprehensive list of studies that have used the various methods.

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Conservation

More than half of the recognized species of primates are in danger of extinction. Much of the literature pertaining to primate conservation is found in highly specific journal articles relating to the status and distribution of certain species, subspecies, or populations that are too numerous to list here. A list of the top twenty-five endangered primate species is published biannually (Mittermeier, et al. 2009). Broader treatments of conservation-based issues and practices can be found in Marsh and Mittermeier 1987 and Cowlishaw and Dunbar 2000. For some species, captive breeding may be an important source for future populations, as outlined in Wallis 1997. More recently, Strier 2011 provides an up-to-date outline of the major threat to most populations of primates in peril, i.e., anthropogenic activity including deforestation, forest fragmentation, hunting, and the pet trade. The IUCN Red List is an online source, providing an up-to-date list of the world’s endangered species (primates included).

Diet

As feeding is such a critical aspect of daily life, studies of foraging and diet have occupied center stage in the history of primatological research. Researchers have long recognized that what primates eat can have a large impact on how they spend their lives, which in turn has led to entire disciplines such as Socioecology. Early research focused on studying the relative importance of certain food categories in the diet of various species (e.g., Harding 1981). Later attention turned to investigating morphological and physiological adaptations that increased the effectiveness of primate digestive systems (Chivers and Hladik 1980; Chivers, et al. 1984, Milton 1984). More recently, comparative studies have been undertaken using natural history data to investigate wider patterns within the primate order (Lambert 2011, Oates 1987).

  • Chivers, D. J., and C. M. Hladik. 1980. Morphology of the gastrointestinal tract in primates: Comparisons with other mammals in relation to diet. Journal of Morphology 166.3: 337–386.

    DOI: 10.1002/jmor.1051660306Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Investigates the relationship between gut morphology and the specific dietary categories of faunivory, folivory, and frugivory. Available online for purchase.

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  • Chivers, D. J., B. A. Wood, and A. Bilsborough, eds. 1984. Food acquisition and processing in primates. Proceedings of a symposium and workshop on food acquisition and processing in primates, held 22–26 March 1982 in Cambridge, UK. New York: Plenum.

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    The chapters in this edited volume examine the data available at the time (c. 1984) on food acquisition, food processing, and evolutionary perspectives on feeding. The conference focused on food acquisition and processing in primates.

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  • Harding, R. S. O. 1981. An order of omnivores: Nonhuman primate diets in the wild. In Omnivorous primates: Gathering and hunting in human evolution. Edited by R. S. O. Harding and G. Teleki, 191–214. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Reviews the diets of many nonhuman primates, showing that most species include multiple types of foods and are thus technically classifiable as omnivores.

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  • Lambert, J. E. 2011. Primate nutritional ecology: Feeding biology and diet at ecological and evolutionary scales. In Primates in perspective. 2d ed. Edited by C. J. Campbell, A. F. Fuentes, K. C. MacKinnon, R. Stumpf, and S. Bearder, 512–522. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This chapter is the most up-to-date review of the nutrient requirements of nonhuman primates, and what the various diets offer in terms of macro- and micronutrients.

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  • Milton, K. 1984. The role of food processing factors in primate choice. In Adaptations for foraging in nonhuman primates. Edited by P. Rodman and J. Cant, 249–279. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Data on gut passage rate are presented, showing that the speed at which food passes through the digestive tract of various primate species is related to the type of foods they consume.

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  • Oates, J. F. 1987. Food distribution and foraging behavior. In Primate societies. Edited by B. B. Smuts, D. L. Cheney, R. M. Seyfarth, R. W. Wrangham, and T. T. Struhsaker, 197–209. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Landmark review of the ecological aspects of primate feeding, paying particular attention to the ways in which the spatial and temporal distributions of food influence primate foraging.

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Socioecology

Socioecology is the study of how a species’ environment (especially food, its seasonality, distribution, and abundance) influences its behavior, social organization, and social structure. Differences in the types of food consumed (e.g., fruits vs. leaves) and the distribution of food (e.g., patchy vs. not patchy, defendable vs. not defendable) have been shown to have somewhat predictable influences on social factors. Crook and Gartlan 1966 and Eisenberg, et al. 1972 focused on categorizing the various primate species into distinct ecologically based groups. Similarly, Clutton-Brock and Harvey 1977 did not produce testable predictions and clear directions for future research. Terborgh 1983, a study in Peru, was smaller in scale than previous and following studies, choosing to focus on the socioecology of five sympatric species in Peru. The works of Wrangham (Wrangham 1980, and Wrangham 1987) and van Schaik and van Hoof 1983 propose strong links between ecological factors such as food defensibility, female bonding, predation, and dispersal patterns. Additionally, their works provided a series of clear predictions that sparked a flurry of further field studies, allowing for comparative studies that either operated at a broad scale (e.g., Lee 1999) or investigated the validity of previously accepted notions of breeding patterns (e.g., Fuentes 1998).

Cognition and Intelligence

An increased reliance on learned behaviors and intelligence is considered a hallmark of the primate order (see Tomasello and Call 1997 for a review). When Gallup 1970 showed that chimpanzees appear to have a sense of self, interest in variation in intelligence within the nonhuman primates became a major area of research. Hypotheses explaining intellectual variation tend to relate to the types of foods consumed and their distribution in the environment (e.g., Milton 1981), to the ways in which foods are procured, especially through the use of tools (e.g., Humle and Fragazy 2011), or to the number and complexity of social relationships faced by individuals in their social group (e.g., Dunbar 1998).

Culture

Traditionally, culture has been defined as a uniquely human trait. Goodall 1973 suggested that variation in chimpanzee behavior across study sites represented different cultures. Since then, primatologists (McGrew 1998; Whitten, et al. 1999) have defined culture in a way that would allow its presence or absence in nonhuman animals to be tested. Since then, the evidence for variations in behavior among populations of wild primates categorized as cultural is mounting (e.g., Whitten, et al. 1999; Panger, et al. 2002; Perry, et al. 2003; Santorelli, et al. 2011, van Schaik, et al. 2003), even to the point that comparative reviews (e.g., Caldwell and Whitten 2011) are now available.

Reproduction

Studies of primate reproductive biology and behavior, like most avenues of primatological inquiry, can have their foundation in different academic disciplines. Understanding various aspects of nonhuman primate reproduction is important for conservation reasons, captive breeding programs, captive research facilities, evolutionary studies, behavioral studies, etc. Hafez 1971 is a good source of physiological data gathered mostly in captive settings. Dixson 1998 is more comprehensive, including information from field studies and also interpreting the available data in an evolutionary framework. Although a great deal of information is available in journal articles regarding individual species, many important pieces (e.g., Harcourt, et al. 1981; Hardy and Whitten 1987; Dewsbury and Pierce 1989; Muller and Wrangham 2009; Campbell 2011) have taken a comparative approach in an attempt to provide synthetic information across the primate order.

  • Campbell, C. J. 2011. Primate sexuality and reproduction. In Primates in perspective. 2d ed. Edited by C. J. Campbell, A. F. Fuentes, K. C. MacKinnon, R. Stumpf, and S. Bearder, 464–475. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This book chapter provides a general overview of primate sexual behavior and biology.

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  • Dewsbury, D. A., and J. D. Pierce. 1989. Copulatory patterns of primates as viewed in broad mammalian perspective. American Journal of Primatology 17.1: 51–72.

    DOI: 10.1002/ajp.1350170106Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article is a good review and source of data regarding primate copulatory patterns, including data on sexual positions, copulatory length, sexual anatomy, etc. Available online for purchase.

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  • Dixson, A. F. 1998. Primate sexuality: Comparative studies of the prosimians, monkeys, apes and human beings. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This is a comprehensive review of primate sexual behavior and reproductive biology that guides readers through the massive amount of information available on this topic and provides more than 2,000 references.

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  • Hafez, E. S., ed. 1971. Comparative reproduction of nonhuman primates. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

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    This edited volume is a good source for physiological data gathered in captive settings.

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  • Harcourt, A. H., P. H. Harvey, S. G. Larson, and R. V. Short. 1981. Testis weight, body weight and breeding system in primates. Nature 293:55–57.

    DOI: 10.1038/293055a0Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this article, the authors show that in species where multiple males mate with any given female, the testis weight relative to body weight is larger than expected. Available online for purchase.

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  • Hardy, S. B., and P. L. Whitten. 1987. Patterning of sexual activity. In Primate societies. Edited by B. B. Smuts, D. L. Cheney, R. M. Seyfarth, R. W. Wrangham, and T. T. Struhsaker, 370–384. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    In this review chapter, the authors show that unlike most mammals, anthropoid primates have lost a well-defined period of sexual activity otherwise known as estrus.

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  • Muller, M. N., and R. W. Wrangham, eds. 2009. Sexual coercion in primates and humans: An evolutionary perspective on male aggression against females. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    This edited volume examines the evidence for and the evolutionary explanations of sexual coercion—the use of force as a mating strategy—in a variety of primate species.

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Sexual Swellings

Although female reproductive morphology is highly variable in the primate order, highly conspicuous sexual skin swellings are found only in twenty-five species of old world monkey and in both species of chimpanzee (Dixson 1983). Far from being the “norm” in primates, their presence in these species as a sexual signal has been a topic of debate. In most species, females reach maximum swelling around the time of ovulation, which suggests that the swellings act as a strong visual stimulus to males (Berlet and Anderson 1985). More recently, it has been suggested that they signal the reproductive quality of the female (Pagel 1994), or that their imperfect timing in relation to ovulation allows females to limit paternity to dominant males, while confusing paternity by attracting males outside of the exact time of ovulation (Nunn 1999).

Dominance and Reproductive Success

In social groups that have multiple males, the highest-ranking male is often assumed to have the highest reproductive success. Early models investigating this assumption include the “priority-of-access model” (Altmann 1962), which states that the success of a dominant male is related to his ability to monopolize all of the females, so that when there is female synchronicity in mating, or when there are a great deal of other adult males, the dominant male may not be as successful. Theoretical and literature-based reviews of this model include those of Fedigan 1983 and Cowlishaw and Dunbar 1991. Variance in male reproductive success may reflect variance in competitive ability (Bradley, et al. 2005). Alternatively, alpha males may be highly selective in their mating choices, only mating with females at their most fertile time (e.g., de Ruiter and van Hooff 1993). More recently, the model has been challenged on the grounds that the inability of the dominant male to monopolize females is not always the factor determining whether other males find reproductive success (Charpentier, et al. 2005).

Infanticide

Sarah Hrdy (Hrdy 1974, Hrdy 1977) proposed the “Sexual Selection Hypothesis” as an evolutionary explanation for the killing of infant primates by adult males. Since then, the topic has received a large amount of attention in the primatological literature (e.g., Hausfater and Hrdy 1984, van Schaik and Janson 2000). Some authors (e.g., Bartlett, et al. 1993; Sussman, et al. 1995) question the quality of the data, suggesting that the hypothesis has limited explanatory power and that many cases of infant killing can be explained by alternative factors. Regardless of these challenges to the hypothesis, it remains a central tenet within primatological theory, to the point that its absence sometimes requires explanation (Beaudrot, et al. 2009).

LAST MODIFIED: 01/11/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199766567-0019

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