Primatology in anthropology began with morphological comparisons of primates to reconstruct the evolution of humans. Naturalistic studies started in the mid-twentieth century and contributed to understanding the functions of morphological variations. Today, research in primatology employs the new paradigm of behavioral ecology and sociobiology for analysis and interpretation of variation in behavior and ecology. Grouping and group sizes of primates are explained with reference to effects of predation, defense of resources, and female defense against male infanticide. Primates avoid close consanguineous mating, usually by dispersal of males from the birthplace, though in bonobos and chimpanzees males are philopatric. In many primates, nepotistic relations among females are explained by kin selection operating on the philopatric sex. In chimpanzees, nepotism is clearest among the philopatric males. Sexual dimorphism, dominance hierarchies, intrasexual competition, and particularly infanticide by males are best explained by the action of sexual selection. Comparative studies of primates indicate that the large brains of the genus (enlarged cerebral cortex) evolved after bipedalism and human dental characters and probably depended on high-quality diets. Broad comparative studies have supported the hypothesis that large brains may have evolved in response to complex social environments, but comparisons within the apes only may not support the hypothesis. Although dominant themes of current anthropology are not compatible with the epistemology, theory, or methodology of primate research and interpretation, primate studies fit easily within the future of anthropology as a four-field evolutionary study of the origins of humans and human nature.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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