Marilyn A. Norconk, PhD

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Marilyn A. Norconk

ANTH - 48835/58835 - Primate Ecology & Conservation


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ABOUT THE COURSE: “A goal of conservation biology is to determine which types of species are most susceptible to habitat disturbance and which types of disturbed habitats can support particular species” (Onderdonk & Chapman, 2000:587). This quote underscores the importance of understanding both the ecology of the organism and characteristics of a habitat if conservation is to be effective. The goal of the course is to provide you with an overview of wild primates, their geographic distribution and their ecological requirements, as well as the conservation strategies and tactics that, in many cases, will be key to their survival. Topics will include theoretical issues on speciation and extinction, as well as practical issues on population size, use of a geographical area, schedules for growing up and reproduction, diet and nutrition. I will take ecological issues first and then integrate conservation issues as the course progresses.

The conservation portion of the course will be both biological and issue-driven. There must be some way to quantify and project species numbers in order to understand how best to approach their conservation. A recent study showed that park size alone is not a good predictor of species extinction. Extinction of large mammals was 14 to 307 times higher than expected in West African parks, but if human population density was taken into account, it explained 98% of the variance in extinction rates (Brashares et al., 2001). It is something of an understatement, but conservation has both biological and (human) social components to it.

It is important that you gain some basic information about the c. 250 species in the primate order in the first two weeks of the course. I will divide the primates into 10 groups based on the evolutionary relationships (taxonomic family level for the most part). Your first task will be to become familiar with the characteristics of these groups – and no matter how you look at it, it will require some work and memorization on your part. This will also require familiarity with the geography of the tropics: Central and South America; Africa and Madagascar; mainland and insular Asia. This is where the primates live, and this is also where a lot of people live – hence the link to conservation and a source of much controversy about how development and conservation should or should not be integrated. The latter is the topic of your paper, required by both undergraduate and graduate students (see below). To help motivate you to learn the primates, the primate/geography a quiz is scheduled for the third week of classes..