More research and conservation efforts needed to save Colombia's monkeys

Jeremy Hance
March 29, 2010

Approximately thirty monkey species inhabit the tropical forests of Colombia with at least five found no-where else in the world. A new review appearing the open access journal Tropical Conservation Science of Colombia's primates finds that a number of these species, including some greatly endangered species, have been neglected by scientists. The researchers looked at over 3,500 studies covering over a century of research by primatologists.

The woolly monkey (Lagothrix lagotricha), classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, was the most researched of Colombia's monkeys, while the least studied species included: Goeldi's marmoset (Callimico goeldii), also Vulnerable; Geoffroy's tamarin (Saguinus geoffroyi); the white-headed capuchin (Cebus capucinus); Brumback's night monkey (Aotus brumbacki ), considered Vulnerable; and Geoffroy's spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), classified as Endangered.

Brown Spider Monkey, Ateles hybridus, with uncommon blue eyes. Shot in captivity in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Photo by: Tom Friedel.
The researchers found that most of the monkey species studied—such as woolly monkeys, brown capuchins (Cebus paella), and the red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus)—lived near research stations. Field studies are also limited by revolutionary armed forces and drug trafficking in the South American state, which explains a recent decline in field studies in Colombia. The studies focused on species behavior and ecology, largely neglecting anatomy, physiology, molecular biology, and karyology (the study of chromosomes). Few of Colombia's monkey species have been studied in captivity.

Researchers recommend that more research is needed, especially of highly threatened species, such as the brown spider monkey (Ateles hybridus) considered Critically Endangered, the endangered Geoffroy's spider monkey, the Critically-Endangered cotton-topped tamarin (Saguinus Oedipus), and the endangered white-footed tamarin ((Saguinus leucopus). Since most of the studies carried out occurred near research stations, they suggest the establishment of new research stations near little-studied monkeys. Laboratory studies are also needed in order to understand the varying species taxonomic status through molecular studies.

Woolly monkey in Colombia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
According to the paper, if Colombia's rich primate diversity is to survive, the establishment of new protected areas is also needed, since the survey found that a number of species are currently found only in unprotected regions. But even National Parks don't guarantee protection as there has been significant deforestation in protected areas. Hunting is another problem, especially for larger primates. The paper says that education and conservation awareness is urgently needed for local people: monkeys play an important role in tropical ecosystems by spreading a wide variety of seeds from their parent trees. In addition, conservation action plans are also required for a number of endangered species with restricted ranges and under considerable human threat.

Colombia is one of the world's most biodiverse countries—among the top twelve globally—but continuing instability, violence, deforestation, and hunting threatens not just Colombia's monkeys, but all of its rich biodiversity.

Citation: Stevenson, P. R., Guzmán, D. C. and Defler, T. R. 2010. Conservation of Colombian primates: an analysis of published research. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 3 (1):45-62.

Related articles

Finding forest for the endangered golden-headed lion tamarin

(03/29/2010) Brazil's golden-headed lion tamarin is a small primate with a black body and a bright mane of gold and orange. Listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas) survives in only a single protected reserve in the largely degraded Atlantic Forest in Brazil. Otherwise its habitat lies in unprotected patches and fragments threatened by urbanization and agricultural expansion. Currently, a natural gas pipeline is being built through prime tamarin habitat.

Why seed dispersers matter, an interview with Pierre-Michel Forget, chair of the FSD International Symposium

(03/07/2010) There are few areas of research in tropical biology more exciting and more important than seed dispersal. Seed dispersal—the process by which seeds are spread from parent trees to new sprouting ground—underpins the ecology of forests worldwide. In temperate forests, seeds are often spread by wind and water, though sometimes by animals such as squirrels and birds. But in the tropics the emphasis is far heavier on the latter, as Dr. Pierre-Michel Forget explains to "[In rainforests] a majority of plants, trees, lianas, epiphytes, and herbs, are dispersed by fruit-eating animals. […] As seed size varies from tiny seeds less than one millimetres to several centimetres in length or diameter, then, a variety of animals is required to disperse such a continuum and variety of seed size, the smaller being transported by ants and dung beetles, the larger swallowed by cassowary, tapir and elephant, for instance."

Humans push half of the world's primates toward extinction, lemurs in particular trouble

(02/18/2010) Of the known 634 primate species in the world 48 percent are currently threatened with extinction, making mankind's closes relatives one of the most endangered animal groups in the world. In order to bring awareness to the desperate state of primates, a new report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature highlights twenty-five primates in the most need of rapid conservation action. Compiled by 85 experts the report, entitled Primates in Peril: The World's 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008–2010, includes six primates from Africa, eleven from Asia, three from Central and South America, and five from the island of Madagascar.

Jeremy Hance (March 29, 2010).

More research and conservation efforts needed to save Colombia's monkeys.