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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Professor Russell Hill

Allan, A.T.L. & Hill, R.A. (2018). What have we been looking at? A call for consistency in studies of primate vigilance. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 165(S65): 4-22.

Author(s) from Durham


Vigilance functions to detect threats. In primates, these threats emerge from both predators and conspecifics, but a host of other social, demographic, and ecological factors have been shown to influence primate vigilance patterns. The primate vigilance literature is thus characterized by considerable variation in findings, with inconsistent or contradictory results reported not only across different species but also within species and populations across studies. Some of this variation could emerge from fundamental differences in the methods employed, making comparisons across species and groups challenging. Furthermore, identifying consistent behavioral markers for the state of vigilance appears to have proved challenging in primates, leading to a range of definitions being developed. Deviation at this level leads directly into concomitant variation at the level of sampling methodologies. As a result, the primate vigilance literature currently presents a diverse series of approaches to exploring subtly different behaviors and phenomena. This review calls for a greater consistency in studying vigilance, with the aim of encouraging future research to follow similar principles leading to more comparable results. Identifying whether an animal is in a vigilant state is challenging for most field researchers; identifying and recording a more general behavior of “looking” should though be more achievable. Experimental approaches could then be employed to understand the compatibility “looking” has with predator detection (and other threats) in individual study systems. The outcome of this approach will allow researchers to understand the key determinants of looking in their study groups and explore threat detection probabilities given an individual or group's relative level of looking.