Anthropology 568

Primate Ecology and Social Behavior:
Life History & Kinship

Spring, 2005
Copyright Ryne A. Palombit
Three Matrilineal Generations of Chacma Baboon
(© Ryne A. Palombit)

Instructor: Ryne A. Palombit

Prerequisites:  Permission of instructor (substantial background in behavioral ecology and/or primate behavioral biology)



Goal of Seminar:

Our goal is to reach some conclusions about the current state of studies of two central ideas in primatology and evolutionary anthropology:

Life History Theory


Life history theory has long been an important component of evolutionary ecology, but has only recently impacted the field of animal behavior.   Altmann & Altmann (2003) identify study of the life history consequences of behavior as one of the handful of advances “transforming” behavioral research since the days of Ethology.  Likewise, life history has taken on increasing importance in anthropology.  Changes in life history are argued to be a major factor distinguishing early humans from ancestral australopiths (O’Connell et al, 2002), for example, and evolutionary psychologists are turning to life history data more and more.  A life history perspective is relatively new to primatology, however.   A major frontier of research and thinking at the moment is integrating life history theory with the standard socioecological models that have traditionally dominated primatology.  There is a growing view that life history traits are more likely targets of natural selection than social behavioral traits per se.

Blood is Thicker than Water: Kinship

Kinship is not only a major foundation of anthropology, but also primatology (at least as it originally developed in the United States).  Our own Robin Fox was the first person to use nonhuman primate data to evaluate human kinship 30 years ago.  The study of kinship and kin selection by primatologists has shifted of late.  For example, matrilineal kinship dominated models of social evolution for years, but new genealogical methods have allowed us begin to consider the relative importance of patrilineal kinship (even in otherwise "matrilineal societies").  Also, attention has focused recently on mechanisms and cognitive implications of kin recognition.   Finally, some researchers have argued that kinship is not as important in proximate and evolutionary models of primate social structure as we once thought it was.

Readings will disproportinately emphasize the most recent literature, particularly the above textbooks; previous work will be covered in the course of seminar discussions.


One or twice during the semester you’ll moderate discussion.  This means leading the discussion by offering your critical evaluations of the readings.  This does not mean simply rephrasing the content of the papers.  Rather, take a position on the work and present it.  Foster debate by presenting opposing views on a subject.  If you like, you can take time at the beginning of class to present material (a brief “lecture”) or you can present it during the course of the discussion.
    One of your responsibilities as moderator is to do a (computer) search of the literature on the topic you’re moderating and make recommendations regarding papers we should read in class.  The question basically is: are there other papers of enough importance to recommend we drop the currently assigned reading (see below) and replace it?  Your recommendations don’t have to be necessarily based on in-depth analysis of each paper.  Rather, you should be able to make a preliminary evaluation based on a quick examination of it.
    So, two weeks before your moderating date, you should hand in to me (or email to me) a list of several papers  (no more than 5) you’ve run across that you think are relevant for the discussion.  Then, for each one, explain in a few sentences why you recommend it or don’t recommend it for as a reading for the seminar.
    Another responsibility is to present the results of (at least) one other relevant, empirical study (not theoretical or review paper) that was not assigned as a reading.  You can pick from the readings you submitted above, if you like.


Each meeting will have one person charged with summarizing the important points of the discussion that day.  This should generally not be longer than a page (single-spaced).  Summarizers should link ideas and views with the people who offered them.  Summarizer should identify and highlight in their reports the following:  (1) the 3 most important ideas presented (and explain why); (2) the best quote of the day (linked to the person who generated it).  The summarizer will email the summary to me within 24 hrs of the meeting.  I’ll then email it to all participants.

Position Papers:

    A couple of times during the semester you will write a position paper.  These are brief and cogent articulations of your position on a debate. This paper is somewhat similar to the “Open Peer Commentary” exemplified by journals such as The Behavioral and Brain Sciences.  Position papers will be photocopied and distributed to everyone for discussion in the next meeting. You are not graded on the position you take.  What is required for full credit is a serious effort to state a convincing position. Each position paper should not exceed 1500 words (that’s about 2 pages, singled spaced).  Remember: take a position and convince the reader of it.
    The first position paper will focus on brains and life history.   One issue is the question raised in Dunbar's chapter: Is the evolution of life history variables "driven directly by ecological considerations…or it is driven indirectly via socio-demographic variables?"    This position paper also provides an opportunity to review the Kappeler & Pereira volume and conceptual and methodological issues (e.g., researcher's use of data, how the same data sets can generate ostensibly opposing conclusions, the advantages and disadvantages of the correlational analyses we've read so far, etc., etc., etc.).
    The second position paper will be on a kinship topic to be announced.
    EMAIL:  Please email your position paper (as a Microsoft Word document) to me at by 5pm on the due date.  Please do not email participants in the course directly.   That evening, I will email all position papers to everyone.

Schedule of Meetings

Spring 2005 Reading List




Jan. 18


Organizational Meeting

Jan. 27

Starting off: human primates!
Hawkes, K., O'Connell, J.F., & Blurton Jones, N.G..  2003.  Human life histories: Primate trade-offs, grandmothering, socioecology, and the fossil record.  In: Primate Life Histories and Socioecology.

Rodseth, L., & Wrangham, R.W..  2004.  Human kinship: A continuation of politics by other means?  In: Kinship and Behavior in Primates.

Hawkes, K.  2004.  Mating, parenting, and the evolution of human pair bonds.  In: Kinship and Behavior in Primates.

Feb. 3

Basic Background
Kappeler, P.M., Periera, M.E., & van Schaik, C.P..  2003.  Primate life histories and socioecology.  In: Primate Life Histories and Socioecology.

Stearns, S.C., Pereira, M.E. & Kappeler, P.M.  2003.  Primate life histories and future research.  In: Primate Life Histories and Socioecology.

Charnov, E.L.  1991.  Evolution of life history variation among female mammals. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 88:1134-1137.

Silk, J.B.  2002.  Kin selection in primates. Int. J. Primatol., 23:849-875.

Feb. 10

Developmental Issues
Lee, P.C., & P.M. Kappeler.  2003. Socioecological correlates of phenotypic plasticity of primate life histories. In: Primate Life Histories and Socioecology.

Jolly, C.J. & Phillips-Conroy J..  2003.  Testicular size, mating system, and maturation schedules in wild anubis and hamadryas baboons.  Int. J. Primatol., 24:125-140.

Johnson, S. & Bock, J..  2004.  Trade-offs in skill acquisition and time allocation among juvenile chacma baboons.  Human Nature 15:45-62.

Russon, A.E. 2002. Comparative developmental perspectives on culture: The great apes. In: Between Culture and Biology: Perspectives on Ontoenetic Development (Ed. by H. Keller, Y.H. Poortinga & A. Schölmerich), pp. 30-56. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Feb. 17

Socioecology & Life History
Altmann, S.A.  1991.  Diets of yearling female primates predict lifetime fitness.  Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 88: 420-423.

Janson, C.H.  2003.  Puzzles, predation,  and primates: Using life history to understand selection pressures. In: Primate  Life Histories and Socioecology.

Ganzhorn, J.U., Klaus, S., Ortmann, S., & Schmid, J..  2003.  Adaptations to seasonality: Some primate and  nonprimate examples. In: Primate Life Histories and Socioecology.

Kappeler, P.M. & Hermann, E.W.  1996.  Nonconvergence in the evolution of primate life history and socioecology.  Biol. J. Linn. Soc., 59: 297-326.

Feb. 24

Brains & Life History
Deaner, R.O., Barton, R.A., & van Schaik, C.P.  2003.  Primate brains and life histories: Renewing the connection. In: Primate Life Histories and Socioecology.

Ross, C.  2003.  Life history, infant care strategies, and brain size in primates. In: Primate Life Histories and Socioecology.

Dunbar, R.I.M.  2003.  Why are apes so smart? In: Primate Life Histories and Socioecology.

Leigh, S.R.  2004.  Brain growth, life history, and cognition in primate and human evolution.  Amer. J. Primatol., 62:139-162.

Mar. 3

Brains & Kinship

Rendall, D.  2004.  “Recognizing” kin: Mechanisms, media, minds, modules and muddles. In: Kinship and Behavior in Primates.

Cheney, D.L., & Seyfarth, R.M.  2004.  The recognition of other individuals’ kinship relationships. In: Kinship and Behavior in Primates.

McComb, K., Moss, C., Sayialel, S., & Baker, L..  2000.  Unusually extensive networks of vocal recognition among African elephants. Anim. Behav., 59:1103-1109.

Payne, K.  2003.  Sources of social complexity in the three elephant species. In: Animal Social Complexity: Intelligence, Culture, and Individualized Societies (Ed. by F.B.M. de Waal & P.L. Tyack), pp. 57-85. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Position Paper 1 due

Marc. 10

Patrilineal Kinship (& more on matrilineal complexities)

Discussion of Position Papers: Preliminary Conclusions about Life History Studies

Strier, K.B.  2004.  Patrilineal kinship and primate behavior. In: Kinship and Behavior in Primates.

Smith, K., Alberts, S.C., & Altmann, J..  2003.  Wild female baboons bias their social behaviour towards paternal half-sisters.  Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B., 270:503-510.

Bergman, T.J., Beehner, J.C., Cheney, D.L., & Seyfarth, R.M..  2003.  Hierarchical classification by rank and kinship in baboons. Science, 302:1234-1236.

Position Papers:
Gerkey, D.  Life history theory and primate cognition.

Morino, L.  Groups, brains, and meta-analyses.

Peterson, L.  Does life history theory adequately explain brain evolution in primates?

van Rooy, A.   Size really does matter.  Or: Sex on the brain.

Soler-Cruz,  M.  A monkey in the hand is worth two (or more) in the bush.

Mar. 17

Spring Break

Mar. 24

Evolutionary Immunology & Life History
McDade, T.W.  2003.  Life history theory and the immune system: Steps toward a human ecological immunology.  Yearbk. Phys. Anthro., 46: 100-125.
Nunn, C.L.  2002.  A comparative study of leukocyte counts and disease risk in primates.  Evolution, 56: 177-190.
Sauther, M.L., Sussman, R.W. & Cuozzo, F.  2002.  Dental and general health in a population of wild ring-tailed lemurs: A life history approach.  Am. J. Phys. Anthrop., 117: 122-132.

Sugiyama, L.S.  2004.  Illness, injury, and disability among Shiwiar forager-horticulturalitsts: Implications of health-risk buffering for the evolution of human life history.  Am. J. Phys. Anthrop., 123: 371-389.

Mar. 31

Student Presentations:

Angela: Is group size the only social variable significantly correlated with brain size in primates?

Luca: Infanticide and life history analysis.
Reader, S.M., & Laland, K.N..  2002.  Social intelligence, innovation, and enhanced brain size in primates.  Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 99:4436-4441.

Byrne, R.W., & Corp, N.  2004.  Neocortex size predicts deception rate in primates.  Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B., 271:1693-1699.

van Schaik, C.P.  2000.  Social counterstrategies against infanticide by males in primates and other mammals. In: Primate Males: Causes and Consequences of Variation in Group Composition (Ed. by P.M. Kappeler), pp. 34-52.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

van Schaik, C.P. & Kappeler, P.M..  2003.  The evolution of social monogamy in primates.  In: Monogamy (Ed. by U.H. Reichard & C. Boesch), pp. 59-80.  Cambidge University Press, Cambridge.

Apr. 7

Student Presentations:

Drew: Are kin categories natural categories?

Sarah: Dispersal & life history in gorillas
Fox, R. 1979. Kinship categories as natural categories. In: Evolutionary Biology and Human Social Behavior: An Anthropological Perspective (Ed. by N. Chagnon & W. Irons), pp. 132-144. Duxbury, North Scituate, Massachusetts.

Hughes, A. L.  1988.   Evolution and Human Kinship.    Oxford University Press, Oxford.   Excerpt: Chapters 5 and 6 (pp. 72-115).

Watts, D.P. 2000.  Causes and consequences of variation in male mountain gorilla life histories and group membership. In: Primate Males: Causes and Consequences of Variation in Group Composition (Ed. by P.M. Kappeler), pp.169-179.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Yamagiwa, J. & Kahekwa, J.  2001.  Dispersal patterns, group structure, and reproductive parameters of eastern lowland gorillas at Kahuzi in the absence of infanticide.  In: Mountain Gorillas: Three Decades of Research at Karisoke (Ed. by M.M. Robbins, P. Sicotte, and K.J. Stewart), pp. 89-122.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Apr. 14

Student Presentations:

Montserrat: Relationship between kinship and life history variables in humans: Current research and future directions

Liz: Conditions and fitness effects of allomaternal care by kin

Burton, L.M.  1990.  Teenage childbearing as an alternative life course strategy in multigenerational black families.  Human Nature, 1: 123-143.

Quinlan, R.  2001.  Effects of household structure on female reproductive strategies in a Caribbean village. Human Nature, 12: 169-189.

Hatchwell, B.J., & Komdeur, J.  2000.  Ecological constraints, life history traits and the evolution of cooperative breeding.  Anim. Behav., 59:1079-1086.

Sánchez, S., Peláez, F., Gil-Bürmann, C., & Kaumanns, W.  1999.  Costs of infant-carrying in the cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus).  Am. J. Primatol., 48:99-111.

Paul, A., Kuester, J., & Arnemann, J.  1996.  The sociobiology of male-infant interactions in Barbary macaques, Macaca sylvanusAnim. Behav., 51:155-170.

Apr. 21

Kinship in Human & Nonhuman Primates

Special Guest: Robin Fox
Fox, R.  1975.  Primate kin and human kinship. In: Biosocial Anthropology (Ed. by R. Fox), pp. 9-35. Malaby Press, London.

Fox, R.  1980.   The Red Lamp of Incest.  Dutton, New York.  Excerpts: Chapters 4 (The Monkey Puzzle), 5 (Sex in the Head), 6 (Alliance and Constraint), and 7 (The Matter of Mind).

Fox, R.  1989.  The Search for Society: Quest for a Biosocial Science and Morality.  Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey.  Excerpt: The Passionate Mind: Brain, dreams, memory, evolution and social categories.

Fox, R.  1993.   Reproduction and Succession: Studies in Anthropology, Law, and Society,  Transactions Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey.   Excerpt:
Sisters’ son and monkeys’ uncles: Six theories in search of an avunculate.

Rodseth, L., R.W. Wrangham, A.M. Harrigan, & B.B. Smuts.  1991.  The human community as a primate society. Cur. Anthro., 32:221-254.
Apr. 25

Position Paper 2 due

Apr. 28

Conclusions about Kinship
Fox Readings Above

Position Papers:
Gerkey, D.  The primatology of kinship: Patterns of behavior and culture

Peterson, L.   Position Paper.

Morino, L.  Monkey families and human families (and what Robin Fox thinks of that)

van Rooy, A.  Human kinship in comparative perspective.

Schaefer, S.  Western lowland gorillas: Narrowing the gap between human and nonhuman primate kinship systems.

Soler-Cruz, M.  Are we missing the forest for the trees?

Other Graduate Seminars:

Biology of Social Bonds Sex Differences & Sexual Selection in Primates Methods in Field Primatology

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