Rehg publishes paper on callimico in International Journal of Primatology

Dr. Jen Rehg (on right) with her Peruvian colleagues (from right): Fanny Souza, Deuso Souza, and Ines Nole at the field station

Anthropology Associate Professor and Department Chair Dr. Jen Rehg has co-authored an article in the International Journal of Primatology entitled “Distribution and New Sightings of Goeldi’s Monkey (Callimico goeldii) in Amazonian Peru.” Her work in the article comes from her recent field work observing callimico monkeys in the Peruvian rain forests.

Starting with her sabbatical research in the 2011 spring semester, Rehg was in Peru for nearly seven months in the southwestern jungles of Madre de Rios, where she studied the callimicos at two sites: the Los Amigos Biological Station–or Centro de Investigación y Capacitación Rio Los Amigos (CIRCA)–and the Rodal Semillero de Tahuamanu.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the callimico have been ranked as a “vulnerable” species, which, while not as alarming as having the “endangered” status, still raises concern for potential endangerment.

Although callimico do face endangerment, they are a species of monkey that is not well known or widely studied. This is one of the reasons, though, that Rehg studies the callimico.

“It’s just an amazing thing for me to see animals that maybe local people have seen but science doesn’t know much about or people outside of the area don’t know anything about. There’s still so much we don’t know,” says Rehg.

Rehg has been studying callimico throughout her graduate and professional academic career, and she is one of very few researchers of the species. One of the reasons that little research has been done on callimico is because of how difficult the monkey is to observe.

“They exist at low population densities, they’re hard to find, [and] they’re very sneaky monkeys,” says Rehg. “They have some interesting, unique features.”

Unlike other primates, who scream, cry, and then jump into different trees when humans are around them, callimico noiselessly slip away. This makes callimico observations a challenging endeavor.

“The callimico will often not say anything,” Rehg says of the monkeys’ reactions to humans. “They will just drop to the ground and…actually run on the ground, which makes it very difficult because a lot of the ways that primate researchers follow monkeys is by watching movement.”

A callimico in a tree

Rehg’s patience, pesistance, and ardent dedication for studying these monkeys has allowed her to not only see the elusive monkeys but also to contribute rare scholarship about the species. With Rehg’s work at the two field sites, she was able to contribute much needed observations of the monkey.

“In both of the locations are newer observations, so they really add to what is known about a very little understood species overall,” says Rehg. “The contributions that I made included information on those new sightings.”

Rehg worked on the article along with Washington University Anthropology doctoral student Mrinalini Watsa; University of Missouri St. Louis Biology doctoral student Gideon Erkenswick; and Duke Univeristy Research Associate Renata Leite Pitman.

Rehg and her co-authors all contributed their recent observations and studies, conducted at a total of 340 observation sites among the four of them, which is a significant addition to the research considering how little is known about the monkey.

“It’s a review piece with some new information on the species,” says Rehg, “Even though it’s not a huge number of new observations [and] because so little is known, it actually makes a substantial impact just on what we know about the distribution.”

The majority of the sightings of callimico that have been mapped date back to the 1970s, so the portrait of how many of the monkeys live in Peru and other parts of South America and where they were located were a bit dated. Given the surge of global environmental and conservation issues since the 1970s, Rehg and her colleagues saw a need to share their new observations and sightings.

“There’s real concern that the population may be in a way worse state than it’s been evaluated at,” says Rehg.

Rehg’s focus when studying the callimico is their diet and habitat, and she is concerned with new roads, increased logging, and general forest loss found in and near the callimico’s habitat and its “vulnerable” IUCN status.

“The environment is changing so rapidly because of the pace of development in certain areas and it’s happening so quickly…we need to be cognizant of the fact that even how we think things are evaluated from a couple of years ago or even decades ago…may be very different,” says Rehg.

A callimico eating fungus

While the data from the 1970s may be outdated, the article still includes this data to give  scholars a comprehensive look at the work that has been done on the callimico.

“This paper reviews all the previous reports and surveys from lots of different reserachers that’s in libraries or published or in some cases, available in some other ways,” says Rehg. “We review existing information with the contributions of these newer sightings.”

For the paper, information was gathered from sources located around the world. Rehg and her colleagues worked extensively to “put these things together from many different locations…so people who want some more information about this species in Peru can find it.”

While this paper on the callimico has been completed, Rehg’s field work is far from over. Currently, she is analyzing new observations of the monkey she made at the Rodal location for six weeks over this past summer. Rehg plans to spend another six weeks at Rodal in the summer of 2013.

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