Lynne Isbell is an assistant professor of anthropology at Rutgers University. Trained in animal behavior, she focuses on questions involving the evolution and maintenance of sociality, particularly in primates. She recently received funding from the National Science Foundation to investigate the ecological determinants of variation in social relationships in vervets and patas monkeys in Laikipia, Kenya.
Predation on primates: Ecological patterns and evolutionary consequences
Article first published online: 2 JUN 2005
Copyright © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc., A Wiley Company
Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews
Volume 3, Issue 2, pages 61–71, 1994
How to Cite
Isbell, L. A. (1994), Predation on primates: Ecological patterns and evolutionary consequences. Evol. Anthropol., 3: 61–71. doi: 10.1002/evan.1360030207
- Issue published online: 2 JUN 2005
- Article first published online: 2 JUN 2005
- episodic predation;
- resource competition;
- group living;
- predation rate
It has long been thought that predation has had important ecological and evolutionary effects on primates as prey. Predation has been theorized to have been a major selective force in the evolution of hominids.1 In modern primates, behaviors such as active defense, concealment, vigilance, flight, and alarm calls have been attributed to the selective pressures of predation, as has group living itself. It is clear that primates, like other animals, have evolved ways to minimize their risk of predation. However, the extent to which they have been able to do so, given other constraints of living such as their own need to acquire food, has not yet been resolved. Perhaps most hotly debated is whether predation has been the primary selective force favoring the evolution of group living in primates. Part of the difficulty in resolving the debate lies in a paucity of direct evidence of predation. This is regrettable yet understandable since primatologists, by definition, focus on the study of primates, not predators of primates (unless these are also primates). Systematic direct evidence of the effects of predation can best be obtained by studying predators that are as habituated to observers as are their primate prey. Until this is done, we must continue to rely on opportunistic accounts of predation and predation attempts, and on systematically obtained indirect evidence. Such data reveal several interesting patterns: (1) although smaller primates may have greater predation rates than larger primates, even the largest primates are not invulnerable to predation; (2) the use by primates of unfamiliar areas can result in higher predation rates, which might be one pressure favoring philopatry, or site fidelity; (3) arboreal primates are at greater risk of predation when they are more exposed (at forest edges and tops of canopies) than in more concealed locations; (4) predation by mammalian carnivores may often be episodic; and (5) terrestrial primates may not experience greater predation than arboreal primates.