Biologist calls 30% of African primates 'living dead'

Despite huge losses of tropical forests worldwide, no primates are known to have died out there since the year 1600. But the primates aren't all safe. Rather, it just takes a long time for them to die out, according to new research in the October issue of Conservation Biology.

"We should not be lulled into a false sense of security when we see that many species have survived habitat loss in the short term," says Guy Cowlishaw of the Zoological Society of London. "Many are not actually viable in the long term. These might be considered 'living dead'."

Cowlishaw determined how many primate species are likely to go extinct in African forests. He based his prediction on two things: 1) the well-documented relationship between species number and habitat size, and 2) the extent of deforestation in African countries.

Cowlishaw's results suggest that the amount of deforestation so far has left Africa with a sizeable "extinction debt". For instance, even without losing any more forest, six countries (Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Nigeria) could lose a third to half of their forest primate species within decades. Actual extinctions could be much higher because West Africa is expected to lose 70% and East Africa 95% of the remaining forest cover by 2040.

Habitat loss threatens about half of primate species worldwide. Determining where the extinction debts are the greatest will help conservationists decide where to restore habitat and establish corridors between fragments.


Contact: Guy Cowlishaw
Society for Conservation Biology

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