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Invasive primates threaten Atlantic Forest natives
Jeremy Hance
March 19, 2012

Scientists have called for the removal of eight invasive primates from Brazil's imperiled Atlantic Forest in a new study published in's open access journal Tropical Conservation Society (TCS). The researchers fear that the eight alien monkeys could hurt other species due to increased competition, predation, and possible disease.

"The problem of introduced primate species within the state of Rio de Janeiro requires attention, because the ecological costs of these outsiders may be the irretrievable loss of native species," the researchers write. "Although invasive species are a worldwide problem, in the state of Rio de Janeiro the problem is worse, as more non-native than native primate species were recorded within the state."

Scouring research literature, talking with local biologists, and even contacting local animal rescue stations, scientists found evidence for a total of eight alien monkeys in the area. Some like the black spider monkey (Ateles paniscus) and the black-and-gold howler monkey (Alouatta caraya) are not considered great risks, because scientists could not find any evidence that they had actually established populations, but were more liklely rogue individuals. However, invasive marmosets and squirrel monkeys could pose a significant threat. Golden headed lion tamarins (Leontopithecus chrysomelas), which were accidently introduced by an animal collector, could also be a problem as their population is now over a hundred. Finally, the breeding of non-native capuchins with local species has resulted in hybrid species.

"Hybridization is probably the worst effect of these introductions," the scientists note as it is insidiously undercutting endangered primates' survival.

But it's not just native primates that are at risk. Some of the introduced species are known to prey on the eggs and chicks of the restinga antwren (Formicivora littoralis), an Atlantic Forest bird that is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Unknown impacts are likely as well.

The researchers recommend raising awareness on the dangers of keeping primates as pets and sterilization measures of alien species. Where, possible, however, the scientists say the best thing would be to remove the invasive primates altogether.

"Though this recommendation will likely cause political and social concern, it is the most appropriate action considering the potential effects on the native primate species as well as on the whole biodiversity of the state," the scientists write.

CITATION: Oliveira, L. C. and Grelle, C.E.V.. 2012. Introduced primate species of an Atlantic Forest region in Brazil: present and future implications for the native fauna. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 5(1):112-120.

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