a201-11f-11-WhatIsAPrimate - Introduction to Biological...

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Introduction to Biological Anthropology: Notes 11 What is a primate, and why do we study them? Copyright Bruce Owen 2011 - Why study non-human primates? - They give us clues about human nature and the nature of the species that led to humans - For two kinds of reasons: - First, they are our closest relatives, so studying them should give us insight into what our kind of animal is about - more so than studying more distant relatives, like lab rats - because we have relatively recent common ancestors, we should have more traits in common with other primates than with non-primates - there has been less time for us and them to evolve differences - this is “ reasoning by homology - based on the idea that similarities among primates are because we and other primates inherited them from the ancestors we have in common - so if we learn something about a trait in other primates, that trait may also apply to us - because both humans and the other species may have inherited the same trait from a common ancestor - if multiple primates have the trait, it was probably present in their common ancestor - if their common ancestor was also our ancestor, then humans either inherited that trait, or it was modified or lost on the way to us - reasoning by homology can also tell us about our extinct ancestors - say we find a trait that is shared by several descendents or relatives of an extinct species - then that trait is probably homologous, or “inherited” from an ancestor that the extinct species also shared - so the extinct species probably (although not positively) also had the trait - since it was also descended from the same common ancestor - this can give us an idea of behavioral traits and soft tissue traits of extinct species, even though we cannot see them in the fossil record - Second, even aside from the phylogenetic relationship, many primates are relatively similar to us and to our ancestors, or at least more similar than are other kinds of animals - this is “ reasoning by analogy - they have similar basic design, and live in similar environments - so presumably the living non-human primates have been exposed to selection pressures that were similar to those our ancestors adapted to - non-human primates are more “analogous” to us and our ancestors than are most other species, in most ways - so they provide reasonable models for how those selection pressures might have affected early humans and our earlier ancestors - that is, what works for other primates might have worked for us and our ancestors, too
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Intro to Biological Anthro F 2011 / Owen: What is a primate? p. 2 - How is all the evolutionary theory that we have been looking at related to non-human primates? -
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a201-11f-11-WhatIsAPrimate - Introduction to Biological...

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