The anatomic site of hematopoiesis changes during fetal development from the yolk sac to the liver and finally to the marrow. Factors controlling this switch in the site of hematopoiesis are unknown. We assayed erythroid colony (CFU-E) and erythroid burst (BFU-E) formation in fetal, newborn, and adult baboon liver and marrow to determine the growth requirements of primate hematopoietic progenitor cells from different anatomic sites and developmental stages. We cocultured fetal, newborn, and adult liver and marrow nonadherent cells with adherent cells from these organs to assess the role adherent cells may play in determining the site of hematopoiesis. Fetal liver, fetal marrow, newborn marrow, and adult marrow cultures formed CFU-E and BFU-E colonies in vitro. In contrast, newborn and adult liver cell cultures very rarely formed colonies. However, when newborn or adult liver nonadherent cells were cocultured with marrow adherent cells, CFU-E and BFU-E colonies were detected. The colonies that formed in the newborn and adult liver cultures were derived from the liver and not from the marrow cells or peripheral blood trapped in the liver. These data suggest that in contrast to fetal liver, newborn and adult liver may not be hematopoietic organs in normal primates in vivo because of changes in the growth requirements of hematopoietic progenitor cells present in these organs.