The (mis)use of the term ‘commensalism’ in primatology

Laëtitia Maréchal , Tracie McKinney

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This commentary arose from a workshop entitled ‘What works, and what doesn’t work? The challenge of creating effective applied conservation research in human-modified habitats’, held during the joint meeting of the European Federation for Primatology and the Primate Society for Great Britain in Oxford, 2019. One discussion point highlighted the different use of terminology between disciplines as a challenge for effective multidisciplinary conservation research. Growing number of publications have drawn attention to the misuse of the terms such as human-wildlife conflict (Marshall et al. 2007, Peterson et al. 2010, Davidar 2018), crop-raiding (Hill 2017), or ecotourism (McKinney 2017). Here we widen this conversation by reflecting on an additional term regularly used in primatology: commensalism. Here, we will give the different definitions of the term ‘commensal’ used across disciplines and the implications of its misuse. We will then discuss whether this term can be used to categorise human-nonhuman primate (afterward NHP) relationships, and conclude by proposing alternative terminology.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2020


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