Research bias may leave some primates at risk

Research bias may leave some primates at risk
The black-handed spider monkey sits in a tree depicting the major threats to the species' existence in its root system -- agriculture, farming. Credit: Michelle Bezanson, Santa Clara University.

Recent primate research has had a heavy focus on a few charismatic species and nationally protected parks and forests, leaving some lesser known primates and their habitats at risk, according researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Santa Clara University.

The study, which appeared in Evolutionary Anthropology, examined more than 29,000 published between 2011 and 2015 to determine which and locations were most studied and how that focus affects both conservation efforts and risk for species extinction.

"With nearly a third of primate species listed as critically endangered and 60% of all primate species classified as threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the window of opportunity for conserving these mammals is quickly closing," said the study's co-author, Allison McNamara, a Ph.D. student in anthropology at UT Austin. "To protect these species, we have to understand their biology, ecology, , behavior and evolutionary flexibility."

The researchers found that more than half of the 504 primate species were left out of the research literature. Of the 240 species studied, 13% of the research was on chimpanzees, compared to 3% of research that focused on the next most prevalent species, the Japanese Macaque. Furthermore, 18% of published research concerned species considered critically endangered, data deficient or non-evaluated by the IUNC.

Research bias may leave some primates at risk
Figure depicts which species were most researched in field primatology publications from 2011-2015. Top 10 species represented by silhouettes: Pan troglodytes, Macaca fuscata, Macaca mullata, Alouatta palliata, Alouatta pigra, Gorilla gorilla, Cebus capucinus, Papio hamadryas, Ateles geoffroyi, Lemur catta. Credit: Michelle Bezanson, Santa Clara University.

"There are a large number of primate species and populations that are being ignored, which has the potential to misrepresent primate patterns and influence primatological and anthropological theoretical frameworks," said the study's lead author, Michelle Bezanson, an anthropologist at Santa Clara University. "Additionally, not studying certain species makes it impossible to know what risks they face in their habitat, so that scientists can help inform ."

In examining the published works, McNamara and Bezanson were most surprised to find that there were 31 primate habitat countries where no research was being conducted, including Guatemala, Trinidad, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Afghanistan and Singapore. Most of the was conducted in and protected areas of mainland Africa (35.6%), followed by the North and South Americas (29.2%), Asia (25.1%) and Madagascar (9.9%).

"The far-reaching benefits of scientific research are missing in some countries," McNamara said. "Active research can benefit communities in more ways than primate and , including increasing for local and national economies, raising awareness of the region's natural history, sparking community involvement in scientific projects, and creating opportunities for educational programs in the region."

The researchers also noted that most published primate research focused on topics other than conservation. However, 17.6% of publications were conservation focused, addressing anthropogenic influences on habitat, population status/density, population health, and enthnoprimatological approaches to human/wildlife interactions.

"The findings in our paper can help researchers identify the holes in our knowledge about primates so that we may begin to fill in the gaps and frame research questions appropriately, especially in the context of the current extinction crisis of primates," McNamara said. "It is imperative that field researchers pay careful attention to the conservation and ethical implications of their research from conception to publication, and that these implications be included in their published work so that our scientific community can track the progress of such efforts."

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More information: Michelle Bezanson et al, The what and where of primate field research may be failing primate conservation, Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews (2019). DOI: 10.1002/evan.21790
Citation: Research bias may leave some primates at risk (2019, August 14) retrieved 5 August 2021 from
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