Field endocrinology of nonhuman primates: past, present, and future

James P. Higham

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    In the past few decades, research on nonhuman primate endocrinology has moved from the lab to the field, leading to a huge increase in both the breadth and depth of primate field studies. Here, I discuss the past, present, and future of primate field endocrinology. I review the history of the field, and go on to discuss methodological developments and the issues that they sometimes entail. Next, I consider ways in which we might conceptualize the role of hormones, and focus on the need to distinguish proximate from ultimate levels of explanation. Current potentially problematic issues in the field include: 1) an inability to obtain noninvasive measurements of Central Nervous System (CNS) rather than peripheral hormone concentrations; 2) research questions that become stuck (e.g., questions regarding sexual swelling expression mechanisms); 3) data dredging and post-hoc linking of hormones to any plausible variable, leading to a lack of clarity on their role in animal ecology and behavior. I finish by discussing several unanswered questions that might benefit from further research. These are how we might: 1) best obtain measurements for CNS hormone concentrations non-invasively; 2) measure hormone receptor expression alongside hormone concentrations; 3) consider the human endocrinology literature more thoroughly and perhaps take more multimarker approaches; 4) better consider the social environment, including audience and dyadic familiarity effects; and 5) apply our findings to conservation issues.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)145-155
    Number of pages11
    JournalHormones and Behavior
    StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Endocrinology
    • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
    • Behavioral Neuroscience


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