Methodological Issues in Studying Positional Behavior

Meeting Ripley’s Challenge
  • Marian Dagosto
  • Daniel L. Gebo


A major goal of primate evolutionary morphology is to relate limb anatomy to aspects of locomotor or postural behavior or to an entire regime of positional behavior. If well established in living forms these relationships provide the necessary framework for reconstruction of the behavior of extinct species and to answer questions concerning the evolution of primate locomotor systems that were the impetus for the 1965 conference (Kinzey, 1967). Studies of this sort usually proceed by noting salient differences in behavior and morphology in two or more species, establishing correlations between the two, and attempting to explain the correlations using causal arguments derived from biomechanical principles (e.g., Ashton and Oxnard, 1964; Fleagle, 1977a,b; Fleagle and Meldrum, 1988). Obviously, success in such an endeavor depends on the quality of both morphological and behavioral data sets (Ripley, 1967; Fleagle, 1979). In her contribution to the 1965 symposium, Ripley pointed out how the lack of detailed information on behavior hampered efforts to assess the evolutionary importance of behaviors and to construct realistic locomotor groupings or classifications. Morphologists tend to “underestimate the rich complexity of locomotor behavior and to underestimate the difficulties involved in relating morphology and habitual behavior” (Ripley, 1965:167). She especially criticized attempts to define locomotor types in primates on the basis of insufficient information. At the 1965 conference, both Ripley (1967) and Kinzey (1967) challenged primatologists to collect more data to alleviate these problems. Ripley (1967:149) outlined the elements of “an exhaustive study of the total locomotor pattern” necessary before such categorizations would be meaningful.


Intraspecific Variation Habitat Structure Positional Behavior Locomotor Behavior Pygmy Chimpanzee 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marian Dagosto
    • 1
  • Daniel L. Gebo
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Cell and Molecular BiologyNorthwestern University School of MedicineChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyNorthern Illinois UniversityDeKalbUSA

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