The Seven Ages of Pan

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Science  05 Mar 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5970, pp. 1207-1208
DOI: 10.1126/science.1187796

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Imagine yourself as a latter-day Jane Goodall, establishing your camp on the edge of the rainforest, eager to document the behavior and ecology of a previously unstudied ape. As months pass, the animals stop scrambling away as soon as they see you and you can catch occasional glimpses of them as they feed. Stick at it for a year or two and, if you are lucky, you will be able to recognize individuals and spot interesting new behavior patterns. But to understand the network of social relationships between individuals, you need to know their ages, kin relations, and relative dominance rank. That will take at least one decade or, more likely, two. However, other important questions will take three or four decades of systematic data collection: how and why groups increase or decline in size; how genetic differences interact with environmental factors to affect breeding success and survival; how population density is regulated. During all this time you will need to withstand the vicissitudes of funding, political disturbances, and the demands of your career and family.