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Abstract

The premises and promises of primatology stem from its focus on a unique biological group whose members are related by evolutionary descent, and from its commitment to discover all there is to know about these animals. The essential multidisciplinary character of primatology is implicit in this commitment. Evolutionary theory provides the field of primatology with its reason for being and its intellecutal coherence, and is the basis for transforming a diversity of potentially disparate and autonomous disciplines into a mutually reinforcing array of interdependent components within a common enterprise. A powerful adjunct to evolutionary theory is the comparative perspective. The distinguishing characteristic of this perspective is its concern with similarities and differences among primate species at all levels of structure and function. It aims to establish shared traits, to distinguish between homologous processes and convergent effects, to identify trends and specializations, and to understand the historical antecedents of living species. Some of the problems that primatology faces can be traced to its multidisciplinary character. The vitality of primatology depends on the continuing infusion of new methods, new findings, and new ideas. This requires an active process of interdisciplinary communication and mutual education. It is also essential to promote basic research on all aspects of primate biology and to affirm the singular importance of the nonhuman primates as a resource for understanding the natural world and the principles that govern its workings. Conservation is the most formidable and intractable problem confronted by modern primatology. Primate conservation is part of the larger problem of preserving biological diversity in the face of accelerating destruction of natural ecosystems. Primatology has made important contributions to conservation and will continue to do so. The scope and complexity of the problem, however, require the cooperative efforts of many different interest groups.