Edited by P. C. Lee
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 1999
Online Publication Date:August 2009
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511542466.001
Comparative studies have become both more frequent and more important as a means for understanding the biology, behaviour and evolution of mammals. Historically, studies of primate socioecology have been in the forefront of the field and many interesting methodological developments in comparative socioecology have emerged from earlier work. This is not to say that other animals have not been examined – for example, there are excellent studies of seals, carnivores and ungulates, not to mention extensive work on birds.
But primates are particularly interesting in that they have complex social relationships and diverse ecologies, as well as representing a large radiation of morphologies. Socioecology, as used here, is taken to represent the interactions between characteristics of the resource base, its mode of exploitation, reproductive biology and life history, and the observed social system. In this sense, primates can be considered as a test case for hypotheses that the solutions to ecological problems have a social root. Thus, the chapters in this book seek to explore the diverse relations between sociality and resources, mating systems, energetics and reproduction. Questions of biological or physiological constraints on sociality are also examined.
Since the 1987 publication of Primate Societies by Smuts et al., field researchers have added greatly to our knowledge of primate social systems and ecological variation, and this book attempts to synthesise some recent work. It is perhaps notable that the socioecology of the primates is not approached with a taxonomic structure here. Rather, this book tries to cover less well-known species that have been the focus of recent field studies, and specific issues that are of current theoretical interest for primates as diverse as lemurs and humans.