Marilyn A. Norconk, PhD

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Marilyn A. Norconk

ANTH 68624 / BMS 78624 - Primate Ethology


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ABOUT THE COURSE: The general topic for the seminar this year is sexual selection in primates. Since Darwin published Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex in 1871, interest in male/female behavior and morphologies related to selection of mating partners has grown exponentially to the point that we easily fill a 15-week course with related topics.

While you might think that primates (large, smart mammals with color vision) would be well represented in studies and publications on sexual selection, in fact they are not as well represented as birds or beetles. Many of the studies we will read will not relate to primates specifically, but they are studies of similarly complex organisms and we will try to build some hypotheses about how these ideas might apply to primates. I suspect that the reason primates are less well represented than other species is the difficulty of engaging in experiments and manipulating traits – as Andersson did in long-tailed widow birds–or in populations, e.g., adding or removing breeding males. Relying on long-term observations is not the best substitute for experimentation and primatologists will have to be more creative in how we set up experimental methods to test hypotheses related to male-male competition and female choice. And, we don’t want to leave out modern humans and fossils. For example, the exploration of sexual dimorphism in skeletal elements has been around at least as long as the study of social behavior in baboons, and maybe longer.