International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 707–740

Evolution of Primate Social Systems

  • Peter M. Kappeler
  • Carel P. van Schaik

DOI: 10.1023/A:1015520830318

Cite this article as:
Kappeler, P.M. & van Schaik, C.P. International Journal of Primatology (2002) 23: 707. doi:10.1023/A:1015520830318


We review evolutionary processes and mechanisms that gave rise to the diversity of primate social systems. We define social organization, social structure and mating system as distinct components of a social system. For each component, we summarize levels and patterns of variation among primates and discuss evolutionary determinants of this variation. We conclude that conclusive explanations for a solitary life and pair-living are still lacking. We then focus on interactions among the 3 components in order to identify main targets of selection and potential constraints for social evolution. Social organization and mating system are more closely linked to each other than either one is to social structure. Further, we conclude that it is important to seek a priori measures for the effects of presumed selective factors and that the genetic contribution to social systems is still poorly examined. Finally, we examine the role of primate socio-ecology in current evolutionary biology and conclude that primates are not prominently represented because the main questions asked in behavioral ecology are often irrelevant for primate behavior. For the future, we see a rapprochement of these areas as the role of disease and life-history theory are integrated more fully into primate socio-ecology.

social organization mating system social structure social relationships sexual selection life history socio-ecology 

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter M. Kappeler
    • 1
  • Carel P. van Schaik
    • 2
  1. 1.Deutsches Primatenzentrum, Kellnerweg 4Abteilung Verhaltensforschung/ÖkologieGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Biological Anthropology and AnatomyDuke UniversityDurham

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