UW Madison: Monitoring endangered monkeys

CONTACT: Karen Strier, kbstrier@wisc.edu, 608-262-0302

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MADISON - A Brazilian-American research group has just published an unusual study outlining data needs for monitoring the survival of monkeys called muriquis that live in patches of forest in Brazil.

"If you want to preserve the muriquis, exactly what do you need to know?" asks Leandro Jerusalinsky, one of the authors of a report published today (Dec. 13, 2017) in the journal PLOS ONE. "This was the essential question, focusing on identifying population trends and conservation priorities."

"Where do you need to go, and what numbers or qualities do you need to focus on?" adds Jerusalinsky, who leads the National Action Plan for the Conservation of Muriquis at Brazil's National Center for Research and Conservation of Brazilian Primates, linked to the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation.

"We think this may be one of the most comprehensive efforts to analyze the data monitoring needs for ensuring the survival of an endangered animal," says first author Karen Strier, a professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has observed muriquis in Brazil for 35 years. "The two muriqui species live in one of the five most biodiverse hotspots in the world - for both plants and animals, but the southeastern Atlantic Forest is the center of Brazil's economy and population, and so this habitat has long been chopped up by development."

At most, 2,300 muriquis survive in the wild, including fewer than 1,000 members of the northern species, and an estimated 1,300 for the southern species. "Monitoring demographic trends is essential for management programs, including translocations," explains co-author Fabiano de Melo, a professor in the forestry engineering department at the Federal University of Viçosa.

Ensuring that the species survives requires an accurate picture of the different populations, says co-author Mauricio Talebi, professor of primatology and conservation at the Federal University of São Paulo, Diadema campus. "One of the problems we have is that if monitoring uses different methods, the results are not comparable. When we worked on the national action plan for muriquis, we identified gaps. There are big differences in habitat conditions for the northern and southern species, but we still need a standard monitoring system for the various locations."

Monitoring the health of an endangered species can entail much more than just counting individuals or breeding pairs, says Strier. "Population counts at particular sites and in total don't require a big labor force, but we are usually interested in other factors, such as genetic uniqueness or geographic importance: Could this site be used to make a corridor linking isolated populations to enhance genetic diversity?"

More monitoring can answer more questions, Strier says. "If you want to understand past or future changes in demographics, or why a population is growing or declining, you will also want to know the sex ratio and what proportion of females are carrying babies. This takes more time, and more expertise."

READ MORE AT https://news.wisc.edu/monkey-study-shows-a-path-to-monitoring-endangered-species/

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