Phylogenetic signal as a predictor of extinction risk in the world’s primates. Distribution of threat values (IUCN Red List categories) for 340 primate species. Representative genera labeled. After taxonomic updates, our working phylogeny included 350 of the 367 species considered in the molecular supertree (73), of which 340 are not Data Deficient. Closely related species are more likely to have the same threat status than species taken randomly from the phylogeny [D = 0.31; P (D < 1) < 0.001], supporting a strong phylogenetic signal (see Supplementary Text for details of methodology). Data for Africa include Madagascar. IUCN Red List Categories: CR (Critically Endangered), EN (Endangered), VU (Vulnerable), NT (Near Threatened), and LC (Least Concern). Graphic: Estrada, et al., 2017 / Science Advances

By Russell A. Mittermeier and Anthony B. Rylands
24 January 2017

( – The Year of the Monkey has just ended, and won’t come around again for another 12 years. In the meantime, what is happening with our closest living relatives, the nonhuman primates? A recent paper in Science Advances by 31 of us indicates that we are facing an impending extinction episode if we don’t ramp up our actions in a major way over the remainder of this decade and before the next Year of the Monkey comes around again.

Our paper, led by Alejandro Estrada of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Paul Garber from the University of Illinois, Urbana, and including the two of us as coauthors, highlights the fact that nonhuman primates are on the decline almost everywhere. The third most diverse Order of mammals (after the rodents and bats), they are under the highest level of threat of any larger group of mammals, and among the highest of any group of vertebrates. Indeed, our latest assessments, carried out under the auspices of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC) Primate Specialist Group (PSG) and following the long-established Red-listing process of IUCN indicate that at least 63% are threatened, meaning that they fall into one of the three IUCN categories of threat—Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Vulnerable. Of these, 298 (or 43% of all primates) are Critically Endangered and Endangered, meaning, quite simply, that they are in big trouble. This information is based on four Red-Listing workshops carried out for the four major regions in which nonhuman primates occur, the Neotropics (South and Central America and Mexico – January, 2015), Asia (November, 2015), Africa (April, 2016), and Madagascar (July, 2012, soon to be updated in a second workshop). The results from these workshops aren’t even fully analyzed yet, and indications are that the threat percentages could climb still further. Stay tuned.

The most extreme case of threat is on the island of Madagascar. Although this Texas-sized country is less than 2% the size of the other three major continental regions in which primates occur, and far less than 1% of the total area occupied by nonhuman primates around the world, it is considered a major region for primates in its own right. Indeed, its 5 families, 15 genera, and 111 species and subspecies (and counting) are comparable to the numbers for the three other regions: Africa – 4 families, 25 genera, and 186 species and subspecies; Asia – 5 families, 19 genera, and 183 species and subspecies; and the Neotropics – 5 families, 21 genera, and 216 species and subspecies. What is more, all the species found on Madagascar, are endemic, which means that they occur nowhere else (although two species have been introduced to the neighboring Comores). Our results indicate that fully 94% of the lemurs of Madagascar are threatened, by far the highest percentage for any larger group of mammals, with 66% of these falling into the Critically Endangered and Endangered categories. [more]

Primates face impending extinction – what’s next?

Photos of selected primates from each major world region.Conservation status and photo credits include the following: (A) Golden snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana), Endangered, P. A. Garber. (B) Ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), Endangered, R. A. Mittermeier. (C) Udzungwa red colobus (P. gordonorum), Endangered (Photo Credit: Thomas Struhsaker, Duke University). (D) Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus), Critically Endangered (Photo Credit: Andrew Walmsley, Andrew Walmsley Photography). (E) Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii), Critically Endangered (Photo Credit: Perry van Duijnhoven). (F) Azara’s night monkey (Aotus azarae), Least Concern. Photo : Claudia Valeggia / Yale University / Owl Monkey Project, Formosa-Argentina

ABSTRACT: Nonhuman primates, our closest biological relatives, play important roles in the livelihoods, cultures, and religions of many societies and offer unique insights into human evolution, biology, behavior, and the threat of emerging diseases. They are an essential component of tropical biodiversity, contributing to forest regeneration and ecosystem health. Current information shows the existence of 504 species in 79 genera distributed in the Neotropics, mainland Africa, Madagascar, and Asia. Alarmingly, ~60% of primate species are now threatened with extinction and ~75% have declining populations. This situation is the result of escalating anthropogenic pressures on primates and their habitats—mainly global and local market demands, leading to extensive habitat loss through the expansion of industrial agriculture, large-scale cattle ranching, logging, oil and gas drilling, mining, dam building, and the construction of new road networks in primate range regions. Other important drivers are increased bushmeat hunting and the illegal trade of primates as pets and primate body parts, along with emerging threats, such as climate change and anthroponotic diseases. Often, these pressures act in synergy, exacerbating primate population declines. Given that primate range regions overlap extensively with a large, and rapidly growing, human population characterized by high levels of poverty, global attention is needed immediately to reverse the looming risk of primate extinctions and to attend to local human needs in sustainable ways. Raising global scientific and public awareness of the plight of the world’s primates and the costs of their loss to ecosystem health and human society is imperative.

Impending extinction crisis of the world’s primates: Why primates matter



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