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PLoS One. 2013 Jun 24;8(6):e67200. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067200. Print 2013.

Beware of primate life history data: a plea for data standards and a repository.

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Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University, SUNY, Stony Brook, New York, United States of America.


Life history variables such as the age at first reproduction and the interval between consecutive births are measures of investment in growth and reproduction in a particular population or species. As such they allow for meaningful comparisons of the speed of growth and reproduction between species and between larger taxa. Especially in primates such life history research has far reaching implications and has led for instance to the "grandmother hypothesis". Other links have been proposed with respect to dietary adaptations: Because protein is essential for growth and one of the primary sources of protein, leaves, occurs much less seasonally than fruits, it has been predicted that folivorous primates should grow faster compared to frugivorous ones. However, when comparing folivorous Asian colobines with frugivorous Asian macaques we recently documented a longer, instead of a shorter gestation length in folivores while age at first reproduction and interbirth interval did not differ. This supports earlier findings for Malagasy lemurs in which all life history variables tested were significantly longer in folivores compared to frugivores. Wondering why these trends were not apparent sooner, we tried to reconstruct our results for Asian primates with data from four popular life history compilations. However, this attempt failed; even the basic, allometric relationship with adult female body mass that is typical for life history variables could not be recovered. This negative result hints at severe problems with data quality. Here we show that data quality can be improved significantly by standardizing the variables and by controlling for factors such as nutritional conditions or infant mortality. Ideally, in the future, revised primate life history data should be collated in a central database accessible to everybody. In the long run such an initiative should be expanded to include all mammalian species.

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