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Many primate species still threatened with extinction

Evidence-based conservation is key to curb primate population declines
Madame Berthae's mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae), the smallest living primate, was described by DPZ scientists in 1993. Photo: Manfred Eberle
Der in Vietnam beheimatete Delacour-Langur (Trachypithecus delacouri) gehört zu den 25 am stärksten bedrohten Primaten der Welt 2012. Foto: Tilo Nadler
Delacour's langur (Trachypithecus delacouri) are among the 25 most endangered primates of the world 2012. Photo: Tilo Nadler

Less than one percent of scientific literature on primates evaluates the effectiveness of interventions for the conservation of primates. This is the result of a new study compiled by a team of world-renowned experts from 21 countries, including researchers from the German Primate Centre (DPZ) in Göttingen, led by researchers from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) and the University of Cambridge. Despite major conservation efforts, these efforts are only insufficiently effective, leading to a dramatic decline in primate populations. In the journal BioScience the scientists propose several actions to improve the evidence base for the conservation of primates.

Primates receive a lot of research attention and conservation funding compared to other taxonomic groups, owing largely to their anthropological significance and charisma. Yet, we remain unable to conserve primates effectively. About 60 percent of primate species are now threatened with extinction and 75 percent have declining populations.

The authors of the new study ascribe this paradox to the severe lack of evidence for effective conservation of the world’s primates. Compiled by a team of 59 primate researchers and practitioners, as well as scientists from the Conservation Evidence initiative in Cambridge, the study examined roughly 13,000 primate studies. Only 80 of these studies investigated the effectiveness of primate conservation interventions, which is very few compared to other taxa. In addition, only 12 percent of threatened primates and only 14 percent of all primate species recognized today were covered by these intervention studies.

Within primates, the situation of Madagascar's lemurs is particularly dramatic. Of a total of 107 lemur species, 103 are "threatened" or "critically threatened". This makes them to the most threatened mammal group by extinction. "Two of the critically threatened lemur species, Madame Berthae's Mausmakis and Verreaux's Sifakas, are being researched and protected by the research activities at the DPZ field station in the Kirindy Forest. In this way, the DPZ makes a sustainable contribution to the protection of these particularly threatened species," says Peter Kappeler, head of the Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology Unit at DPZ. But despite the predominantly bad news, there are also positive things to report. Christian Roos, scientist in the Primate Genetics Laboratory, explains: "Through the involvement of the local population and intensive research, the protection of Delacour's langurs in the Van Long Conservation Area in Vietnam has been significantly improved. The population has doubled in only 15 years to over 160 animals.“

In order to secure the future existence of primates, various measures are necessary, such as raising resources for intervention-effectiveness testing and publication, developing guidelines for primate conservation interventions, shifting the research focus on threatened species, understudied regions and seeking long-term collaborations with stakeholders. "Just as at least some parts of politics learned to listen to science when making decisions during the Corona pandemic, it is also absolutely necessary for effective and sustainable nature and species conservation that scientific findings are taken seriously and given priority over supposed economic constraints. However, this also requires an intensification of the corresponding research in this area", emphasizes Eckhard W. Heymann, scientist in the Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology Unit at DPZ.

Original publication:

J. Junker, S. O. Petrovan, V. Arroyo-Rodríguez, R. Boonratana, D. Byler, C. A. Chapman, D. Chetry, S. M. Cheyne, F. M. Cornejo, L. Cortés-Ortiz, G. Cowlishaw, A.P. Christie, C. Crockford, S. de la Torre, F. R. de Melo, P. Fan, C. C. Grueter, D. C. Guzmán-Caro, E. W. Heymann, I. Herbinger, M. D. Hoang, R. H. Horwich, T. Humle, R. A. Ikemeh, I. S. Imong, L. Jerusalinsky, S. E. Johnson, P. M. Kappeler, M. C. M. Kierulff, I. Koné, R. Kormos, K. Q. Le, B. G. Li, A. J. Marshall, E. Meijaard, R. A. Mittermeier, Y. Muroyama, E. Neugebauer, L. Orth, E. Palacios, S. K. Papworth, A. J. Plumptre, B. M. Rawson, J. Refisch, J. Ratsimbazafy, C. Roos, J. M. Setchell, R. K. Smith, T. Sop, C. Schwitzer, K. Slater, S. C. Strum, W. J. Sutherland, M. Talebi, J. Wallis, S. Wich, E. A. Williamson, R. M. Wittig, H. S. Kühl (2020). Severe Lack of Evidence Limits Effective Conservation of the World’s Primates. BioScience. DOI: 10.1093/biosci/biaa082