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Module BSX-2042:
Introduction to Primatology

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Alexander Georgiev

Overall aims and purpose

This module introduces you to the diversity of the order Primates and the multiple theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches that primatologists use to study them. Primates is one of the most numerous orders of mammals (second only to the order Rodentia). To identify the crucial features that have contributed to their success as a taxon we will use evidence from a variety of fields to understand how they differ from other mammals and what underpins their diversity. We will examine primate variation in feeding ecology, reproductive strategies, and development to trace our shared ancestry within this group of mammals. Infanticide, sexual coercion, and lethal aggression are part of the life of many primates and we will address these behaviours from an evolutionary perspective to understand when and why they are likely to occur. We will also consider the evidence for primate culture and how it compares to what we usually consider as ‘culture’ in humans. Finally, drawing on the biological characteristics of the primates and the increasing anthropogenic changes to their habitats we will see why so many of them are facing extinction in the wild. Can some of those features that made primates so successful as a group over the course of evolution, also account for their possible demise in a world dominated by only one of their species - humans?

Lectures and independent reading will be supplemented by practical sessions in comparative anatomy, behavioural data collection techniques, behavioural data analysis, and GIS analysis (for spatial data). These will equip you with essential skills for designing and conducting your own primatological investigation.

Course content

Some of the themes covered in the module may include: Primate origins, evolution & diversity • Comparative anatomy of modern primates • Ecology of primates and primate communities • Biogeography & primate niches • Primate social systems: evolution & diversity • Cooperation & competition in primate groups • Primate reproductive ecology & physiology • Life history strategies • Sexual selection & reproductive strategies • Cognitive evolution and culture • Primate conservation biology

Assessment Criteria


A threshold student should have a basic knowledge of the essential facts and key concepts presented in the module. Written work should demonstrate a basic ability to synthesise and interpret data from lectures and readings in a structured and logical manner, and all assessments should demonstrate the general capacity to organise acquired knowledge. (Grade D or C; mark range 40-59%)


An excellent student should have a high level of detailed factual knowledge across all aspects of the module, and be able to detail examples and case studies where appropriate. Written work should demonstrate an ability to think critically about the subject and to synthesise lecture material and information from extensive background reading in support of detailed, developed arguments. (Grade A; mark range 70-100%)


A good student should have thorough factual knowledge across all aspects of the module, and be able to cite examples and case studies where appropriate. Written work should demonstrate an ability to think about the subject and to synthesise lecture material and some information from background reading into coherent arguments. (Grade B; mark range 60-69%)

Learning outcomes

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the distinct features of Primates as an order, their relationship with other mammalian groups, and the reasons for their ecological success, as well as the particular risk factors for their survival.

  2. Demonstrate an ability to synthesise knowledge from a variety of sources to critically evaluate arguments based on hypothetical scenarios.

  3. Apply theoretical knowledge of methodology to collect data/observations during practical activities and understand of the results obtained and the methodological limitations of different approaches.

  4. Demonstrate an understanding of various theories of primate origins/ecology in the context of wider debates in evolutionary biology, behavioural ecology, biogeography and palaeobiology.

  5. Demonstrate an understanding of several key areas of primatology – e.g. morphology, ecology, biogeography, evolutionary biology, socioecology, behavioural ecology, conservation.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
EXAM Final exam

Final exam to be held during exam period in January 2021. In 2020/21 will be take online, open-book. A mix of MCQs, fill-in-the-blanks, and some short-answer questions. It should take you no more than 2 hours but you can complete the exam at any point during a 24-hour window.

REPORT Comparative anatomy practical report

Practical report based on work carried out during the comparative anatomy practical.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


2 - 3 one-hour long lectures per week.


Field trip to observe free-ranging primates (e.g., Trentham Monkey Forest). Students will be guided through recording behavioural data in the field and will collect some data independently. This is a one-off, one-day field trip. Several hours will be spent on location.

Practical classes and workshops

Three practical sessions will introduce students to a variety of technique for studying primates: 1. Computer based analysis of behavioural data students collected during fieldwork (3h); 2. Museum-based comparative anatomy investigations (3h); 4. Computer based GIS analysis of spatial data (3h). These practicals would be time-tabled in separate weeks during the semester.

Private study

Directed reading in preparation for lectures, assessments and practical work.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • PS1 Communication skills, covering both written and oral communication with a variety of audiences
  • PS2 Skills in the employment of common conventions and standards in scientific writing, data presentation, and referencing literature
  • PS3 Problem-solving skills, relating to qualitative and quantitative information
  • PS4 Numeracy and mathematical skills, including handling data, algebra, functions, trigonometry, calculus, vectors and complex numbers, alongside error analysis, order-of-magnitude estimations, systematic use of scientific units and different types of data presentation
  • PS5 Information location and retrieval skills, in relation to primary and secondary information sources, and the ability to assess the quality of information accessed
  • PS7 Basic interpersonal skills, relating to the ability to interact with other people and to engage in teamworking
  • PS8 Time management and organisational skills, as evidenced by the ability to plan and implement efficient and effective ways of working
  • PS11 Problem-solving skills including the demonstration of self-direction, initiative and originality
  • PS6 Information technology skills which support the location, management, processing, analysis and presentation of scientific information
  • PS14 Independent learning skills required for continuing professional development
  • PS15 The ability to think critically in the context of data analysis and experimental design


Talis Reading list

Reading list

Core texts:

Mitani et al. 2012 The Evolution of Primate Social Systems. Chicago University Press.

Fleagle 2003 Primate Adaptation and Evolution. Academic Press.

Strier 2017 Primate Behavioural Ecology. Routledge.

Setchell (2019) Studying Primates. Cambridge University Press.

Additional readings will be provided via a reading list.

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: