Research Fellow's breakthrough study reported by BBC

Published on:

14 November 2011

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Wolfson Research Fellow Suzanne Shultz has published a paper that sheds new light on the origins of human social behaviour, as reported by the BBC.

An analysis of over 200 primate species by an Oxford team of evolutionary biologists led by Dr Shultz suggests that our ancestors gave up their solitary existence when they shifted from being nocturnal creatures to those that are active during the day.

The results of the research were published in Nature last week, and show that communal living was adopted to protect against daytime predators. The team pinpointed the shift from non-social to social living to about 52 million years ago, a switch that appears to have happened in one step, and coincided with a move into daylight.

Dr Shultz said: “If you are a small animal active at night then your best strategy to avoid predation is to be difficult to detect. Once you switch to being active during the day, that strategy isn't very effective, so an alternative strategy to reduce the risk of being eaten is to live in social groups.” Dr Shultz thinks that the move to daytime living in ancient primates allowed animals to find food more quickly, communicate better, and travel faster through the forest.

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