Unexpected demography in the recovery of an endangered primate population

PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e44407. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044407. Epub 2012 Sep 17.


Assessments of the status of endangered species have focused on population sizes, often without knowledge of demographic and behavioral processes underlying population recovery. We analyzed demographic data from a 28-year study of a critically endangered primate, the northern muriqui, to investigate possible changes in demographic rates as this population recovered from near extirpation. As the population increased from 60 to nearly 300 individuals, its growth rate declined due to increased mortality and male-biased birth sex ratios; the increased mortality was not uniform across ages and sexes, and there has been a recent increase in mortality of prime-aged males. If not for a concurrent increase in fertility rates, the population would have stabilized at 200 individuals instead of continuing to grow. The unexpected increase in fertility rates and in adult male mortality can be attributed to the muriquis' expansion of their habitat by spending more time on the ground. The demographic consequences of this behavioral shift must be incorporated into management tactics for this population and emphasize the importance of understanding demographic rates in the recovery of endangered species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birth Rate
  • Endangered Species*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Population Dynamics
  • Primates*
  • Sex Ratio

Grant support

Financial support for the study was from the National Science Foundation (BNS 8305322, BCS 8619442, BCS 8958298, BCS 9414129, BCS 0621788, BCS 0921013, DEB-0816613), National Geographic Society, Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, Fulbright Foundation, Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid, Grant #213 from the Joseph Henry Fund of the National Academy of Sciences, World Wildlife Fund, L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, Chicago Zoological Society, Lincoln Park Zoo Neotropic Fund, Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, Conservation International, the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.