Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Evolution of Primate Social Behavior


A new study of over 200 species suggests that individualistic primate groups may have evolved into complex societies in two major steps. A study by Susanne Shultz of the university of Oxford reported that about 52 million years ago, primates might have stopped foraging alone and banded together to form large, same-sex groups to search for food. Then, 16 million years ago, primates began forming more stable social groups, such as male-female pairs and groups of females led by one male. This urge to team up could’ve happened during the transition from a nocturnal life to a life in the sunshine. Primates needed a new defense strategy to deal with more predators and hunters during the day, and by joining up they could serve as lookouts for each other. Shultz’s study examined the social behavior of 217 species of primates such as baboons, gibbons and tamarins, and combined that data with information about the primates’ evolutionary tree, going on to predict about the likely transitions the creatures underwent to form these cooperative social systems. Further research would have to test transition theories in other mammals to solidify the conclusions drawn from this study.

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