December 13, 2012

Professor, alumna part of team’s species discovery

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A Southern Illinois University Carbondale professor and a 2007 anthropology graduate are part of an international team of scientists to discover an entirely new species of primate.

Susan Ford, a professor of anthropology and associate dean and director of the Graduate School at SIU Carbondale, is a member of a team of scholars and scientists to discover a new species of slow loris, an elusive, very small, nocturnal primate found in the jungles of Borneo. 

The findings, announced today (Dec. 13), will be published in the American Journal of Primatology.  In revealing the existence of the entirely new species of slow loris, the team also offered evidence sufficient to recognize two sub-species of slow lorises as a unique species unto themselves.

“Our work shows the slow loris species are quite different, and that all three should be separate species rather than sub-species,” Ford said.

Media Advisory

Professor Susan Ford, associate dean and director of the Graduate School at SIU Carbondale, and a member of the international scientific team to discover a new species of slow loris, is available to discuss the research. She may be contacted at 618/453-4527.

A Margot Marsh Diversity Fund grant to Ford and SIU Carbondale supported work for the project.  The research has been ongoing for several years.

Ford explained that during the past 15 years, advances in the study of nocturnal species has led to a better understanding of the differences between species.  The team’s research focused on the distinctive colorings of Borneo’s slow loris and their distinctive “facemask” markings, including eyes covered by patches and the heads by a “cap.”

 “Technological advances have improved our knowledge about the diversity of several nocturnal mammals,” said Rachel Munds, a team member and senior author. Munds earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from SIU Carbondale in 2007; she is a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

 “Historically many species went unrecognized as they were falsely lumped together as one species.  While the number of recognized primate species has doubled in the past 25 years, some nocturnal species remain hidden to science,” Munds said.

Munds began her study of lorises in Borneo while a graduate student at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, England, under the direction of Anna Nekaris.  Nekaris, a co-author of the study, was a member of the SIU Carbondale anthropology department more than a decade ago.

According to information about the study released by the American Journal of Primatology, the slow loris (Nycticebus) is a primate genus closely related to the lemur.  Their habitat extends across Southeast Asia -- from Bangladesh to China’s Yunnan province and the islands of Borneo and the southern Philippines.  It is rare among mammals for having a toxic bite, and is rated as vulnerable or endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Differences in their facemasks resulted in the recognition of four species of Bornean and Philippine lorises.  The new species, Nysticebus kayan, is found in the central-east highland area of Borneo, and is named for a major river in the region.

Nekaris noted that the new findings suggest a greater diversity in the area than previously recognized.  She noted also that the habitat in the area is threatened by human activity.

“The pet trade (also) is a serious threat for slow lorises in Indonesia,” she said.  “Recognition of these new species raises issues regarding where to release confiscated Bornean slow lorises, as recognition by non-experts can be difficult.”

“This finding will assist in conservation efforts for these enigmatic primates, although survey work in Borneo suggests the new species are either very difficult to locate or that their numbers may be quite small,” Munds said.

More information on the discovery is available at the American Journal of Primatology website. The paper will be available online at beginning Friday, Dec. 14.

Editors note:  The American Journal of Primatology contributed information for this release.