Molecular genetic approaches to the study of primate behavior, social organization, and reproduction.
In the past several decades, the development of novel molecular techniques and the advent of noninvasive DNA sampling, coupled with the ease and speed with which molecular analyses can now be performed, have made it possible for primatologists to directly examine the fitness effects of individual behavior and to explore how variation in behavior and social systems influences primate population genetic structure. This review describes the theoretical connections between individual behavior and primate social systems on the one hand and population genetic structure on the other, discusses the kinds of molecular markers typically employed in genetic studies of primates, and summarizes what primatologists have learned from molecular studies over the past few decades about dispersal patterns, mating systems, reproductive strategies, and the influence of kinship on social behavior. Several important conclusions can be drawn from this overview. First, genetic data confirm that, in many species, male dominance rank and fitness are positively related, at least over the short term, though this relationship need not simply be a reflection of male-male contest competition over mates. More importantly, genetic research reveals the significance of female choice in determining male reproductive success, and documents the efficacy of alternative mating tactics among males. Second, genetic data suggest that the presumed importance of kinship in structuring primate social relationships needs to be evaluated further, at least for some taxa such as chimpanzees in which demographic factors may be more important than relatedness. I conclude this paper by offering several suggestions of additional ways in which molecular techniques might be employed in behavioral and ecological studies of primates (e.g., for conducting "molecular censuses" of unhabituated populations, for studying disease and host-parasite interactions, or for tracking seed fate in studies of seed dispersal) and by providing a brief introduction to the burgeoning field of nonhuman primate behavioral genetics.