Reconstructing Social Behavior from Dimorphism in the Fossil Record

  • J. Michael Plavcan
Part of the Advances in Primatology book series (AIPR)


The social behavior of extinct species has long been a subject for speculation. Group size and composition, mating systems, territoriality, resource defense, predator defense, cooperation, and competition, among others, have all been inferred for extinct taxa (e.g., Aiello and Dunbar, 1993; Blumenberg, 1981, 1984; Fleagle et al.1980; Gingerich, 1981, 1995; Kay, 1982; Kay et al.1997; Krishtalka et al.1991; Lovejoy, 1981; McHenry 1991, 1992, 1994a,b; Moore, 1997; Plavcan and van Schaik, 1997a; Simons and Rasmussen, 1996; Simons et al.1999; Wrangham, 1987; Zihlman, 1997— see chapter by Nunn and van Schaik). Such characters are important for painting a history of the evolution and diversification of lineages, and they occasionally feature as key components of models for primate social evolution. There is an especially rich literature speculating on the evolution of human social behavior (e.g., Kinzey, 1987). The purpose of this chapter is to evaluate how social behavior can (or cannot) be inferred in extinct primates on the basis of remains preserved in the fossil record.


Sexual Selection Sexual Dimorphism Fossil Record Competition Level Extinct Species 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Michael Plavcan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnatomyNew York College of Osteopathic MedicineOld WestburyUSA

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