Abstract # 247:

Scheduled for Thursday, August 9, 2001 08:45 AM-09:45 AM: (Fine Arts Auditorium) Keynote Address


FIELD EXPERIMENTS IN PRIMATE ECOLOGY: THE MONKEYS ARE ALWAYS RIGHT

C. Janson
Department of Ecology & Evolution, SUNY at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY 11794
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     With the notable exception of studies on primate vocalizations, primatology has not been rich in experimental approaches to field behavior or ecology. After a brief review of the kinds of field manipulations often performed with other animals, I will argue in favor of increasing the use of experiments on primate behavioral ecology. First, many kinds of manipulations can be applied to primates without jeopardizing the integrity of long-term observational studies. Second, experiments can help to demonstrate directly what otherwise can only be inferred indirectly from correlations. Third, experiments can help reduce the need for comparative studies of many different populations to understand how a species responds to ecological variation. Finally, field experiments lead naturally to a bridge between field and captive studies on primates. Despite these advantages, field ecological experiments are not easy to carry out and interpret. I shall review the kinds of questions my colleagues and I have addressed experimentally in a population of brown capuchin monkeys in Argentina. This overview will emphasize not only the successes, but our more spectacular (and amusing) failures. The latter cases were failures only in the sense that we did not learn what we set out to, but in every case the results taught us something valuable about the monkeys and their perception of the world. Thus, I argue that it is worthwhile to carry out field experiments, even if they are relatively crude compared to the control possible in the laboratory.