The Primate Programme has, over the last fifteen years, specialised in studying the biology of primates from a variety of perspectives including ecology, behaviour, genetics, and conservation through observational, mathematical, computational and philosophical methods. Its principal research and conservation interests, however, are in the areas of long-term dynamics of population structure and life-history strategies and community ecology of primate communities in fragmented landscape.
Ecology and Conservation
Understanding the behavioural ecology and conservation of northeastern Indian primates including a newly discovered species of macaque Macaca munzala
Genetics, Demography and Behaviour
A long-term field project, begun in 2000 and proposed to continue for twenty years, investigates the demographic structure, population dynamics and socioecology of a population of wild bonnet macaques in the Bandipur National Park – Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary complex in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Molecular phylogeny of sinica group of macaques including the Arunachal macaque species complex, Assamese macaque and the bonnet macaque is done in the lab
- Journal ArticleIn pressMixed fortunes: old expansion and recent decline in population size of a subtropical montane primate, the Arunachal macaquePLoS One
- Report2016NCF Annual Report 2016
- Popular Article2016Get the monkey off the back.The Tribune (op-ed), page 9.
The decision to cull macaques is clearly a dramatic response by the Himachal Pradesh government to defuse a situation that was turning into a public embarrassment. There are other ways to negotiate the man-animal conflict at the heart of the issue.
- Journal Article2014Local and Landscape Correlates of Primate Distribution and Extinction in Upper Brahmaputra ValleyConservation Biology 28(1): 95-106Download
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Habitat fragmentation affects species distribution and abundance, and drives extinctions. Es- calated tropical deforestation and fragmentation have confined many species populations to habitat rem- nants. How worthwhile is it to invest scarce resources in conserving habitat remnants within densely settled production landscapes? Are these fragments fated to lose species anyway? If not, do other ecologi- cal, anthropogenic, and species-related factors mitigate the effect of fragmentation and offer conservation opportunities? We evaluated, using generalized linear models in an information-theoretic framework, the effect of local- and landscape-scale factors on the richness, abundance, distribution, and local extinction of 6 primate species in 42 lowland tropical rainforest fragments of the Upper Brahmaputra Valley, northeastern India. On average, the forest fragments lost at least one species in the last 30 years but retained half their original species complement. Species richness declined as proportion of habitat lost increased but was not significantly affected by fragment size and isolation. The occurrence of western hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock) and capped langur (Trachypithecus pileatus) in fragments was inversely related to their isolation and loss of habitat, respectively. Fragment area determined stump-tailed (Macaca arctoides) and northern pig-tailed macaque occurrence (Macaca leonina). Assamese macaque (Macaca assamensis) distribution was affected negatively by illegal tree felling, and rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) abundance increased as habitat heterogeneity increased. Primate extinction in a fragment was primarily governed by the extent of divergence in its food tree species richness from that in contiguous forests. We suggest the conservation value of these fragments is high because collectively they retained the entire original species pool and individually retained half of it, even a century after fragmentation. Given the extensive habitat and species loss, however, these fragments urgently require protection and active ecological restoration to sustain this rich primate assemblage.
- Book Chapter2014Experientially Acquired Knowledge of the Self in a Nonhuman PrimatePages 81-99 in Sangeetha Menon, Anindya Sinha and B V Sreekantan (editors) Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Consciousness and the Self, Springer, India
The pressures of developing and maintaining intricate social relationships may have led to the evolution of enhanced cognitive abilities in many social nonhuman species, particularly primates. Knowledge of the dominance ranks and social relationships of other individuals, for example, is important in evaluating one’s position in the prevailing affiliative and dominance networks within a primate society and could be acquired through direct or perceived experience. Allogrooming supplants among female bonnet macaques usually involve the subordinate female of a grooming dyad retreating at the approach of a third female, dominant to both members of the dyad, although, in a few exceptional cases, the dominant member of the dyad could, instead, retreat. Retreat by the dominant individual was observed to be positively correlated to the social attractiveness of her subordinate companion, indicating that individual females successfully evaluate social relationships among other group females. Logistic regression analysis revealed the probability of retreat of the dominant female to be significantly influenced by her own dominance rank and those of the other two interacting females. Individual macaques thus possess egotistical knowledge of their own positions, relative to those of others, in the social hierarchy and appear to, therefore, abstract and mentally represent their own personal attributes as well as those of other members of the group. The experiential acquisition of such cognitive knowledge of the self raises important questions about the possible mechanisms underlying the nature of this mental representation and the general ability to categorise social information in non-verbalizing animal species such as macaques.
- Book Chapter2014Nature and Culture in the wild: Biological foundations of behavioural traditions in non-human primatesPages 367-389 in R Narasimha and S Menon (editors) Nature and Culture Volume XIV, Part 1, Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture Centre for Studies in Civilizations, New DelhiDownload
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A variety of mechanisms for socially facilitated learning allow animals to acquire information from the behaviour of others, and through their own modified behaviour such information can subsequently be transmitted between individuals within and across generations. Variation in such socially acquired and transmitted behaviours is unlikely to be under direct genetic control since individuals who are closely related genetically can have and pass on very different behaviours; this is also true for cultural traditions that such behaviours may have generated. Behavioural information transfer of this nature thus represents another form of inheritance that operates in many nonhuman species, including primates, in tandem with the more basic genetic system. Most behavioural traditions usually precede genetic adaptations but exert persistent directional selection for genetic variations congruent with the new patterns of behaviour since such traditions lead to the transmission of the same selective regime. Selection for the ability to learn a particular behaviour pattern more efficiently and rapidly may also lead to it becoming dependent on fewer learning trials or none at all – ultimately culminating in a partial or complete incorporation of the trait into the basic genetic inheritance system. This paper reviews principles of culture and its biological foundations, and examines the rôles that behavioural inheritance and socially transmitted cultural traditions play in the structure and dynamics of primate societies, with particular reference to data from long-term field studies on Japanese macaques and from bonnet macaques, a species endemic to peninsular India. Three principal consequences are considered: the appearance of individual behavioural traits leading to the establishment of social traditions, the rôle of stable behavioural traditions in facilitating cultural selection, and the influence of particular behavioural and life-history traits on gene-culture coevolution in nonhuman primates.
- Book2014Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Consciousness and the SelfSpringer India, New Delhi
- Book Chapter2013Anthropogenic Influences on Macaque Populations and Their Genetic ConsequencesPages 209 to 224 in S. Radhakrisna and A. Sinha (editors) The Macaque Connection: Cooperation and Conflict between Humans and Macaques, Springer, New Delhi.Download
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Human–macaque interactions constitute a complex phenomenon influencing perhaps the biology of the macaque more profoundly than ours. At the population level, humans tend to influence the distribution, demography, immunology and even behaviour of the macaque species they interact with though none of these interactions are ever simple. These works at different levels, interacting, in turn, with other environmental factors and most of these impacts are likely to have genetic consequences over the long term. In this chapter, we reviewed available literature on anthropogenic impacts on macaque populations. We should, however, stress that our current state of knowledge, unfortunately, suffers from a serious lack of insight into such genetic impacts. There is, therefore, a dire need for long-term genetic monitoring programmes to understand the effect of anthropogenic factors on the dispersal and demography of different macaque species.
- Book2013The Macaque Connection: Cooperation and Conflict between Humans and MacaquesSeries: Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects, Vol. 43, Springer, New Delhi
Most successful among the non-human primates in terms of geographical distribution and adaptability to ecological habitats, macaques have existed for many thousands of years in close contact with modern humans, the only primate more successful than them. Centuries-old literary works attest to the fact that macaques have always been an intrinsic part of human lives and imaginations. In their interactions with humans, macaques play multiple roles that often transcend the boundaries of categorization. They are often, simultaneously, wildlife and domestic pets, sentient beings and experimental subjects, crop-raiding pests and religious symbols. In many parts of the tropics, macaques are an economic resource for human communities, as they provide meat and money through tourism and the animal trade. Equally, they cause much damage and bring about great economic losses due to their crop- and house-raiding tendencies. A more recent cause for alarm has been the possibility of transmission of diseases to humans due to contact with macaques. Across Asia, macaques, perhaps more than any other animal species, exemplify the multiple facets of synurbization and the conservation problems of commensal species. Humans and macaques associate in rather remarkable ways, and this volume explores the tone and nature of those human-macaque connections by focusing on various forms of interactions between macaques and humans, change in human attitudes vis-à-vis macaques over the ages, cultural views on macaques, human-macaque conflict and its conservation implications. Its holistic perspective of the myriad aspects that illustrate the singular relationship between men and macaques makes it essential reading not only for primatologists and anthropologists but also for anyone interested in the intricacies of human-animal relations.
- Book Chapter2013Arunachal macaque Macaca munzala (Sinha, Datta, Madhusudan and Mishra 2005)Pages 198-210 in A. J. T. Johnsingh & N. Manjrekar (editors) Mammals of South Asia – Volume 1. Universities Press, Hyderabad, India