Get access

Primate socioecology at the crossroads: Past, present, and future


  • Tim Clutton-Brock,

    Search for more papers by this author
    • Tim Clutton-Brock is Prince Philip Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Cambridge. He has worked on the evolution and ecology of social behavior and reproductive strategies in a wide variety of animals, including primates, carnivores, and ungulates. His current field work focuses on the evolutionary causes and ecological consequences of cooperative breeding.

  • Charles Janson

    Search for more papers by this author
    • Charles Janson is Associate Dean at the University of Montana. He has worked on the ecology and evolution of primate societies on several continents, using a combination of models, experimentation, and natural observation.


Attempts to explain differences in the size and structure of primate groups have argued that they are a consequence of variation in the intensity of feeding competition caused by contrasts in food distribution. However, although feeding competition can limit the size of female groups, many other factors affect the costs and the benefits of sociality to females and contribute to differences in group size. Moreover, interspecific differences in social relationships between females, in female philopatry, and in kinship between group members appear to be more closely associated with variation in life-history parameters, reproductive strategies, and phylogeny than with contrasts in food distribution or feeding competition. The mismatch between predictions of socioecological theory and observed variation in primate social behavior has led to protracted arguments about the future of primate socioecology. We argue that future attempts to understand the diversity of primate societies need to be based on an approach that explores separate explanations for different components of social organization, combines ecological and phylogenetic information, and integrates research on primates with similar studies of other groups of mammals. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.