Lydia Beaudrot’s Thoughts on Primatology and Ecology

Because of the historical separation between primatology and general ecology and the ongoing disconnect between the two fields, it is rare to find primate-focused faculty in Ecology and Evolution programs. This raises the question of how those of us interested in ecologically oriented questions about primates can bridge the gap between the two fields. During the Ecological Society of America (ESA) annual meeting in Austin, I found myself thinking about the underlying reasons for the divide. We are limited by the slow life histories of primates and the painstaking amount of work necessary to collect data with small sample sizes. However, phenomenal long-term data on individuals and there are more data available on the distribution and abundance of primates than any other tropical mammalian taxon.

What, then, are the emerging fields of ecology where primatologists can meaningfully contribute? There were two hot topics at ESA where I think primatology has the potential to play a major role. The first was the growing interest in the effects of individual variation on populations, communities and ecosystems. Much of this work is currently at the modeling stage, but given the abundance of data on primates, we might readily be able to test models with observational data and help propel this growing field forward. The second topic was warfare ecology. Given than many primate field sites are located in politically unstable countries, long-term field sites that have experienced interruptions due to turmoil but have persisted may be able to inform the growing interest in the ecological consequences of war.

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