Beyond Behavioral Studies

A "muddy" field day

A “muddy” field day

When I tell people I am a primatologist, the number one question I get is “Why?”

It’s not an easy question for me to answer. I typically enter into a fifteen minute (at least) conversation discussing the plethora of information out there, and how much still needs to be studied. Mostly because it’s not a simple answer, but also because I love talking about it. But as I watch their interest lessen and the expression on their face drop as I babble on about all of the interesting things about primate behavior that they didn’t sign up for, I am thankful that I can pick up on social cues. Ha! Hopefully over time I can narrow down a two sentence response that is most appropriate for brief, friendly conversation. The simple fact is that we don’t know everything there is to know about primates, and there is still a lot to learn!

Why study non-human primates?

Academics – understanding nature

Practicality – managing primate populations (captive & wild)

Personal Interest – understanding human the “context”, evolution

There are many aspects to studying non-human primates. What information can we get from observing wild primates?

Activity Patterns – What do they do in a day?

Diet – What do they eat?

Habitat Use and Ranging – How much space do they utilize? How do they interact with their habitat?

Group Size – Group Composition – How many individuals occupy the group? What does the group consist of?

Social Aspects and Reproduction – Who interacts with whom? Who mates with whom? Who is involved in infant care?

That’s a lot of information to work with, but what other information can we get?

What are the stress levels of these primates? Are they stressed? Do they have parasites? What is the quality of their diet? Are there hormonal changes over time? What is their body mass?

And much, much more rich information

There are many methods that have been quickly erupting in the primatology field to find even more in depth information. Behavioral studies bring a large amount of data in understanding how these primates live, but more importantly, what else is happening? How do these other factors interact, or potentially influence behavior?

We need more studies beyond observational data.

Here are some subjects that should be on your radar:

Capture and Release – genetic sampling, bloodwork, measuring body mass and morphometrics, parasite data

Endocrinology – hormones

Non-Invasive Biological Sampling – cortisol levels, diet, parasites

GIS – home range information, territoriality, spatial variation

Climate – weather patterns, seasonality

Cognition – decision-making, aggression/cooperation

As a student coming into graduate school, long intensive studies are extremely difficult for master’s work. These studies may have to happen after graduate school when funding However, it is undeniable that long-term studies and the rich information we can get from these additional sources is highly valuable. Additional aspects to our research is necessary to understand more in depth information about these fascinating animals.

Post topic/content, courtesy of Mitch Irwin, NIU – “Socioecology of Primates” course.

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