Menu mobile menu

Göttinger Freilandtage: What constitutes social complexity?

Leading biologists discuss the complexity of social groups and their origins at the German Primate Center
Guinea-Paviane (Papio papio) at the DPZ field station Simenti in Senegal. This primate species lives in a multi-level social system. Photo: Matthias Klapproth
Prof. Peter Kappeler. Photo: Karin Tilch
Prof. Peter Kappeler is head of the Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology Unit at the DPZ and Professor of Anthropology and Sociobiology at the University of Göttingen. Since 1997 he has been organising the Göttinger Freilandtage. Photo: Karin Tilch
A group of moustached tamarins (Saguinus mystax). Photo: Laurence Culot
Tamarin groups usually consist of five to six members. Here a group of moustached tamarins (Saguinus mystax) while resting and grooming. Photo: Laurence Culot
A group of attentive ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta). Photo: Christian Schlögl
A group of attentive ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta). This species of lemurs lives in Madagascar. The animals are organized in mixed sex groups of six to 24 individuals on average. ring-tailed lemur females dominate their males. Photo: Christian Schlögl

Be it a school of fish, a bee colony or the group life of primates - animals live in different social systems that are more or less complex. The factors that determine this complexity and its implementation for all animal species is not yet clearly understood, even among experts. What is social complexity and how can one distinguish between the various animal communities? This and many other questions will be discussed by 16 international experts and around 150 behavioral researchers from various countries who will be attending the 11th Göttinger Freilandtage from 12th to 15th December 2017 at the German Primate Center (DPZ) - Leibniz Institute for Primate Research. The aim of the conference is to bring together leading experts who conduct research on social systems of different animal species. From this comparative perspective, general patterns and future research directions can be acquired. A public lecture will be held on the first evening at 6:30 p.m. in the lecture hall of the German Primate Center, Kellnerweg 4, in Göttingen. Dustin Rubenstein, Associate Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology at Columbia University in New York City, talks about the structures of complex animal communities and their evolutionary development.

"The term 'social complexity' is discussed in a variety of ways in the behavioral sciences," says Peter Kappeler, Head of Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit at the DPZ and organizer of the conference. "While entomologists consider the well-organized bee colony to be the highest level of complexity, vertebrate experts attribute this to primates with their complex and flexible social relationships. So far, however, hardly any variables are known that can be used to record social complexity to create a multi-species comparison. During the conference, we will have interdisciplinary discussions on these topics."

Each day of the conference will have a set topic of discussion. While the second day (12/13/2017) focuses on specific patterns of social complexity in different groups of animals, the lectures on the third conference day (12/14/2017) evolve mainly around the question of how complexity arises. Communication in animal societies will be one of the topics of discussion. The focus is on the question: do animals communicate more in larger and more complex groups, or are these interactions already part of that complexity. The last day (12/15/2017) will focus mainly on the evolutionary development of complexity. Discussions on whether evolution took place from single living animals via pair bonding to large complex groups, or whether pair relationships only arose later from larger groups, will be held with the use of phylogenetic analyses. Another focus is on the anthropological perspective. The discussion will focus on the evolution of human societies from hunter-gatherer communities to the founding of states as well as the importance of culture in our complex societies.

The Göttingen Freilandtage is an international congress where every two years a current topic on evolution, ecology and behavior is thoroughly discussed. The world's leading experts in primate and behavioral biology examine the current topic from different perspectives. The Freilandtage Congress has been organized by Peter Kappeler since 1997. Peter Kapperler is the head of the Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology Unit at the German Primate Center and professor at the Institute of Zoology and Anthropology of the University of Göttingen.

The program can be found here: