Abstract # 111:

Scheduled for Sunday, September 18, 2011 08:00 AM-09:00 AM: Session 15 (Salon F (Sixth Floor)) Oral Presentation


K. B. Strier
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Anthropology, Madison, WI 53706, USA

Models of primate social evolution assume that the behavior patterns we observe in wild subjects are adaptive. Yet, many extant primates now live in severely altered habitats where ecological and demographic conditions are quite different from those that most likely prevailed during their evolutionary past. These disparities make it difficult to distinguish between behaviors that persist as the products of past selection pressures and may or may not still be adaptive, versus those that reflect recent facultative responses to local conditions and can shift during the course of an individual’s lifetime. Applying these distinctions to interpretations of the behavior of endangered primates is particularly challenging, because species with restricted geographic distributions provide limited opportunities for controlled intraspecific comparisons. Behavior in small populations is also highly vulnerable to the effects of stochastic events, thus complicating our ability to distinguish behaviors that emerge over ecological time. Nonetheless, nearly 3 decades dedicated to studying the behavior of one critically endangered primate, the northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) in southeastern Brazil, have led me to appreciate the essential role of behavioral plasticity in their social, reproductive and ecological adaptations. The insights gained from the muriquis have implications for understanding the diversity of behavior patterns of other primates. They also highlight the significance of behavioral analyses for the conservation of endangered species.