Landscapes of Time: Building Long-Term Perspectives in Animal Behavior*

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In the 1960s, scientists fascinated by the behavior of free-living animals founded research projects that expanded into multi-generation investigations. This paper charts the history of three scientists’ projects to uncover the varied reasons for investing in a “long-term” perspective when studying animal behavior: Kenneth Armitage's study of marmots in the Rocky Mountains, Jeanne Altmann's analysis of baboons in Kenya, and Timothy Hugh Clutton-Brock's studies (among others) of red deer on the island of Rhum and meerkats in the Kalahari. The desire to study the behavior of the same group of animals over extended periods of time, I argue, came from different methodological traditions – population biology, primatology, and sociobiology – even as each saw themselves as contributing to the legacy of ethology. As scientists embraced and combined these approaches, a small number of long-running behavioral ecology projects like these grew from short pilot projects into decades-long centers of intellectual gravity within behavioral ecology as a discipline. By attending to time as well as place, we can see how this long-term perspective was crucial to their success; they measured evolutionary changes over generations of animals and their data provided insights into how the animals they studied were adapting (or not) to changing local and global environmental factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-188
Number of pages25
JournalBerichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jun 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science


  • Jeanne Altmann
  • Kenneth Armitage
  • Timothy Hugh Clutton-Brock
  • animal behavior
  • archive
  • behavioral ecology
  • evolution
  • long-term research


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