Most carnivorans (members of the mammalian order Carnivora) are elusive and long lived, so long-term studies are required to understand their basic biology and, ultimately, to conserve them. Here, we review examples of the wealth of information about the social systems, ecophysiology, and ecology of gregarious, terrestrial, carnivorous carnivorans (hereafter, carnivores) generated by long-term field studies of free-living, individually recognizable carnivores. Our synthesis yields key insights about the evolutionary forces favoring cooperation and ecological forces shaping social dynamics. The genetic assignment of parentage permits elucidation of the extent of reproductive skew in natural populations spanning multiple generations. Tracking of individuals across their life spans reveals underlying physiological, behavioral, and ecological mechanisms mediating reproductive suppression and dispersal. Long-term studies permit a comprehensive understanding of the ways in which intrinsic and extrinsic factors, including conflict with humans, regulate carnivore populations. Long-term studies also provide crucial baseline information required for the conservation of carnivores in the face of burgeoning human populations and global climate change. Notably, many conservation problems unfold on timescales only addressable with long-term data. Although we have yet to exploit the full wealth of information from long-term field studies, these valuable repositories have already yielded myriad insights about mammalian carnivores that would be unobtainable from studies conducted over shorter timescales.
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Vol. 98 • No. 3