Kinship and behavior in primates [Bernard Chapais, Carol M. Berman (Eds.)]

Majolo, Bonaventura (2007) Kinship and behavior in primates [Bernard Chapais, Carol M. Berman (Eds.)]. Animal Behaviour, 73 (5). p. 927. ISSN 0003-3472

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Scientists would probably agree that kinship is a fundamental factor shaping the behaviour and ecology of primate as well as of other animal species. The number of studies analysing the importance of kinship for primates is growing, and data are now available for many species. Our knowledge on this topic is, however, still fragmentary. Indeed, no single book has ever been published on kinship in primates. Chapais & Berman therefore aim to analyse this kinship ‘black box’, as they define it, by reviewing and critically discussing the most recent findings on the link between kinship and behaviour in primates.

The editors state that studies on this subject have generally used simple dual classifications to analyse kinship (e.g. kin and nonkin, same and different matrilines). Such criteria are arbitrary and limit comparisons across species and/or studies; for example, some scientists may consider as kin those individuals who share a coefficient of relatedness of r ≥ 0.25, while for others the cut-off may be r ≥ 0.125. Both the possibility and feasibility of measuring the coefficient of relatedness between animals have improved in recent years with the rapid development of new molecular techniques. The first section of the book thus focuses on methodological improvements in determining kin relationships, with special reference to wild populations. This section clearly reviews current methodologies and discusses their efficacy (useful for those of us who use kinship data for behaviour research without understanding the methods required to get them). However, I was a bit disappointed to read, in the chapter by Morin & Goldberg, that ‘No genetic study of primate kinship has yet, in the absence of external data, been able to resolve relatedness on a finer scale (e.g., half versus full sibs…)’ (page 34). This sentence supports Chapais & Berman's position that many facets of primate kinship have yet to be understood. However, I had hoped to find a discussion of new findings and techniques to help explain the importance of genetic relationships to primate behaviour, particularly after Chapais & Berman's statement about the inaccuracy of previous studies on this topic.

The second section focuses on ecology and demography. Isbell highlights how female dispersal patterns (whether elicited or not by mothers) may affect the size and presence of female kin groups. Hoelzer and colleagues discuss the relation between dispersal and population genetics and review various models used in biogeography, two relevant topics in light of the many endangered species of primates. Finally, Hill analyses kinship in Cercopithecines, probably the most studied primate taxon with respect to both kinship and behaviour.

The next two sections review current evidence about what are probably the classic topics on the link between kinship and behaviour, the importance of maternal kinship on primate behaviour and the effect of kinship on mating. I particularly appreciated that an entire chapter (by Nash) is devoted to nocturnal primates, even though the data on kinship in these species are still scarce, as Nash herself acknowledges. However, this decision seems warranted, in that a book with a relatively narrow topic (although with many implications) should expand the reader's views and knowledge about research areas or species that do not otherwise receive much attention. The chapter on kin recognition is well written and welcome. This topic is attracting growing attention from behavioural ecologists and psychologists, and the importance of the various mechanisms for kin recognition (e.g. spatial proximity or visual recognition) is likely to be debated for years to come.

The last section analyses the implications of studies on nonhuman primates for understanding kinship in humans. The authors effectively discuss how primatology and social anthropology (as well as, in my view, many other disciplines) share many theoretical concepts (although not always explicitly) and benefit from a mutual exchange of ideas.

I have only a couple of minor criticisms. The first one, to the editors, concerns the absence of a chapter on the importance of kinship for non-primate species. Some data appear sporadically throughout the book, but a dedicated chapter would have attracted more readers who are not primate specialists. The second criticism, to the publisher, is that I found the book quite hard to read because of the small font size.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this book. Berman & Chapais have succeeded in assembling some of the major experts on kinship in primates. In the last few years, the proliferation of edited books on primates, and their usually high cost, sometimes reduces their effective need and originality, which in turn forces potential readers, particularly students, to have to choose which book to buy. This problem, however, does not apply to this book, because a summary of the importance of kinship for primate behavioural ecology has been needed, and the book covers the major areas of research in this field. The book is clear and well written and would benefit upper-level undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as scientists in primatology, behavioural ecology and anthropology.

Review of Kinship and Behavior in Primates, Bernard Chapais, Carol M. Berman (Eds.). Oxford University Press, Oxford (2004),

Keywords:Animal behaviour, Primate behaviour
Subjects:D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D300 Animal Science
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
ID Code:13331
Deposited On:11 Feb 2014 16:57

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