The Brazilian Amazon is home to 114 primate species and subspeciesmore than any other region in the
world. Ten new primate species
, including seven marmosets, have been discovered there since 1990. At the same time these primates are coming under increasing threat: The 2003 IUCN Red List now includes three two of them for the ﬁrst time as Critically Endangered. CI President Russell Mittermeier, who described six of the new primate species, and Anthony Rylands, senior director with the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at CI (CABS) sat down with Frontlines Managing Editor Patrick Johnston to discuss their ﬁndings and the status of primates in the Brazilian Amazon
Q. What exactly is a marmoset and how are they different from other primates?
Marmosets and tamarins are a diverse group of small New World monkeys. Of the 60 species and subspecies known today, 47 occur in the Amazon forests
. Their coats are ﬁne and silky, and many species have ear tufts, moustaches, manes or crests. They have claws as opposed to nails, and all but one of the species regularly have twins, whereas all other monkeys generally have single births. Most of the species are restricted in their geographic ranges, often being conﬁned to a small area between two rivers. The dwarf marmoset, for example, has one of the smallest ranges of any known primate: a tiny triangle between the Rio Madeira and the mouth of its tributary, the Rio Aripuan, in the central Brazilian Amazon.
Q. Why does it matter that we've found these new primate species?
This demonstrates how little we still know of the Amazon's immense wealth of flora and fauna, despite years of exploration, and even with a relatively well-studied group such as the primates. A full understanding of the diversity of primates and where they occur is obviously vital if we are to succeed in protecting them. With very restricted ranges, the survival of many Amazon primates may be quickly compromised with forest destruction, colonization and development projects on even quite small scales.
Q. How many species are uncovered every year in the Amazon?
Hundreds of new species of animals and plants are found in the Amazon every year, and there are still enormous numbers waiting to be discovered and described. yet the forest is being cut down
so fast (almost 10,000 square miles from July 2001 to June 2002) for timber and to make way for cattle pasture and soy plantations, that is highly probable species are going extinct and we don't even know it.... There's also a huge amount of undescribed endemism, species found nowhere else. Tributaries of the Amazon can represent a significant barrier to animals that dont swim, so you ﬁnd a lot of endemic species between large river basins. Additionally, during the recent past theres been a lot of shrinking and expansion of forest during dry and wet periods that created isolated forest fragments where unique species evolved.
Q. What is the signiﬁcance of listing three Amazonian primates as threatened?
Rylands: It is a clear and disturbing sign of the Amazons future that species in this vast wilderness should now be entering the Critically Endangered category. Two of them, a howling monkey from the coast of Maranho and the Kaapor weeper capuchin, occur in small ranges in the devastated eastern Amazon. The third, the pied tamarin, is restricted to the vicinity of the capital of the state of Amazonas, Manaus. The situation of these primates is similar to many of those restricted to Brazils Atlantic Forest hotspot, where most of the 7 percent of the remaining forests are devastatingly fragmented and degraded. The forests of the eastern and southern Amazon are now widely destroyed and fragmented and, with their unique ﬂora and fauna, could well slip into the hotspot category in the next decade. Moving quickly to establish protected areas wherever possible is likely the only way to save many of these species.
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