Reconstructing Behavior in the Primate Fossil Record

Part of the series Advances in Primatology pp 339-370

The Adaptations of Branisella boliviana, the Earliest South American Monkey

  • Richard F. KayAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Duke University Medical Center
  • , Blythe A. WilliamsAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Duke University Medical Center
  • , Federico AnayaAffiliated withMuseo Nacional de Historia Naturale

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One of the goals of paleoprimatology is to provide adaptive explanations for the origins of evolutionary novelties of the order and its major groups. For such scenarios to be more than,“just-so stories,” like Kipling’s story of how the leopard got its spots, we need to develop and test ideas about the adaptive significance of particular morphological character states that are likely to be preserved in the fossil record. Once the adaptive context of the morphology is fully appreciated, we can go on to make inferences about the behavior of extinct primate species that possessed similar character states. But even when we know with some confidence the adaptive “meaning” of a particular morphological character state and use it to infer the behavior of an extinct species, we must be able to place that extinct species into its phylogenetic context. What is the distribution of the newly identified morphological peculiarity? Is it found in just one extinct species or does it characterize some larger group of species? And what does the distribution of the character state tell us about the ancestral morphological (and inferred behavioral) pattern of primate clades? Therefore, in parallel with the effort to understand adaptation of character states, there must be an effort to reconstruct the phylogenetic pattern of primates.