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The primate extinction crisis in China: immediate challenges and a way forward

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China is facing an unprecedented set of challenges in balancing the effects of economic development and global climate change with environmental protection and maintaining biodiversity. Although positive steps have been undertaken to remedy this situation, currently 80% of China’s 25 extant primate species are threatened, 15–18 species have population sizes of less than 3000 individuals, and two species of gibbons and one species of langur have been extirpated over the past few decades. Today, virtually all species of primates in China inhabit fragmented landscapes and are distributed in small isolated subpopulations with limited opportunities to exchange individuals or genetic information. Here we present a historical framework examining how human-induced environmental changes, particularly since the second half of the 20th century, accelerated primate population decline in China. In addition, we modeled the expected spatial conflict between agricultural expansion and primate distributions over the next 25–75 years and assessed the current overlap between protected areas and primate distributions. Depending on the assumptions of the spatial conflict model, primate distributions are expected to decline by an additional 51–87% by the year 2100. Thus, unless large-scale conservation policies are implemented immediately the current trend of primate population decline, local extirpation, and species extinctions will accelerate. To mitigate against such extinction scenarios, we advocate the creation of a Chinese national agency and repository of environmental information focused on public awareness and education, the implementation of targeted programs of habitat restoration designed to return impacted forests to a more natural state especially within and at the boundaries of nature reserves, the establishment of additional protect areas, and the construction of a latticework of corridors connecting isolated primate subpopulations. This comprehensive approach offers the most effective way to protect China’s animal and plant biodiversity, including its endangered primate populations.

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This project was sponsored by the following Grants: Baoguo Li, Key Project of Natural Science Foundation of China (31730104) and National Key Program of Research and Development, Ministry of Science and Technology (2016YFC0503200), Ming Li (National Key R&D Program of China, 2016YFC0503200 and Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, XDPB0202), Pengfei Fan (National Program for Support of Top-notch Young Professionals in China, National Natural Science Foundation of China—NNSFC, 30900169; 31160424; 31372216). Jiqi Lu (NNSFC, 31472018 and 31672302) and Qingyong Ni (NNSFC, 31501873 and Kadoorie Conservation China, Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden Corporation). Jinhua Li (NSFC, No. 31672307 and 31372215). Sidney Gouveia (Brazilian CNPq Grants, Procs. #303180/2016-1 and 402469/2016-0); Zhipang Huang (Collaborative Innovation Center for Biodiversity and Conservation in the Three Parallel Rivers Region of China). Colin Groves unfortunately passed away during the final stage of this project, and we wish to highlight his contributions to this manuscript. We also wish to take this opportunity to celebrate his significant achievements in primatology, particularly those related to China through his cooperation with a great number of Chinese scholars. Ruliang Pan wishes to thank his wife, Aiqun Zhang, for her enthusiastic support, so that he was able to use spare time on the project. Paul A. Garber also wishes to thank Chrissie, Sara, and Jenni for their love, guidance, and support, which have inspired his work on primate conservation. Our final thanks is given to Rong Hou who assisted in manuscript preparation.

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Correspondence to Baoguo Li, Ruliang Pan or Paul A. Garber.

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Communicated by Xiaoli Shen.

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Li, B., Li, M., Li, J. et al. The primate extinction crisis in China: immediate challenges and a way forward. Biodivers Conserv 27, 3301–3327 (2018).

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