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Anaccessible guide to the primates.

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American Journal of Primatology 56:251–252 (2002)
An Accessible Guide to the Primates
Review of Walker’s Primates of the World by Ronald M. Nowak. Introduction by Russell
A. Mittermeier, Anthony B. Rylands, and William Konstant. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1999, 232 pp, 180 fig., 13 tab., $19.95.
Walker’s Primates of the World is a commendable guide to the diverse and
interesting primate order that is both accessible to the educated public and useful to the professional scientist. The bulk of the text is reprinted from the primate section of the sixth edition of Walker’s Mammals of the World [Nowak, 1999],
with a comprehensive introduction to the order by well-respected primatologists.
As such, it provides one who is primarily interested in primates ready access to
the wealth of information contained in the multi-volume Walker’s Mammals of
the World, combined with an excellent and thorough introduction to this unique
group of mammals.
In their 52-page introduction, Mittermeier, Rylands, and Konstant cover a
variety of topics, including taxonomy, distribution, and patterns of diversity; habitats and communities; locomotion and posture; diets and feeding behavior; reproduction and life-history characteristics; social structures; and conservation. This
review is extremely well written overall, and is a superb and compact introduction to the order. A full 10 pages is dedicated to past, present, and future conservation efforts, highlighting the major threats to primates in general and the
regions and species most at risk. A table listing critically endangered and endangered primates is especially useful. Most of the sections in the introduction provide excellent coverage. A notable exception is their section on reproduction and
life-history characteristics, which, at scarcely over one page, barely touches on
the diversity of reproductive patterns found in the primates.
The reprint of the primate section from Walker’s Mammals of the World forms
the largest portion of the text, at 139 pages. There is a general introduction to
each family and then to each genus. When available, each section contains the
number and distribution of species, measurements and physical traits, habitat,
daily and seasonal activity, population dynamics, home range, social life, reproduction, longevity, and the status of threatened species. In contrast to the other
recent primate compendium, Noel Rowe’s The Pictorial Guide to the Living Primates [1996], Nowak’s text includes recently extinct primate genera (e.g., the
giant lemurs of Madagascar). Much of the information contained in the accounts
is referenced from secondary sources, and common names are included at the
family and genus level but not at the species level.
Overall, the presentation of the text is good, with numerous crisp black and
white photos and very readable tables. Many images are from captive populations or are of taxidermy specimens, and many are photographs by Ernest P.
Walker, the original author of the Mammals of the World series. The inclusion of
more naturalistic photographs from natural or seminatural habitats would be a
DOI: 10.1002/ajp.1080
Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com).
© 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
252 / Reeder
welcome addition; readers looking for beautiful pictures of primates should look
elsewhere. This reviewer’s eyes found the 8-point font of the bulk of the text too
small; fortunately, the Introduction does not suffer the same fate. Very few typographical lapses were noted.
The text does a fairly good job of addressing taxonomy at the species level,
especially when disputes arise, but fails in several places at higher taxonomic
levels. For certain groups, taxonomies based upon tradition or morphology were
purposefully chosen in lieu of taxonomies derived using a phylogenetic approach.
For example, in the Introduction (p. 7), the authors state that, despite the evidence that the New World monkeys form three clades (Cebidae, Atelidae, and
Pitheciidae), “For convenience…we maintain the traditional division of these genera in two families: Callitrichidae (marmosets and tamarins) and Cebidae (the
remaining genera).” I suspect that this statement reflected their need to match
the taxonomy used by Nowak, and not their personal views on the appropriate
taxonomic arrangement of this group. Nowak’s placement of the greater apes
into the family Pongidae while reserving Hominidae for Homo sapiens based upon
morphology, in clear and admitted opposition to the phylogenetic evidence, is an
even more egregious error. Additionally, although the textual information for Homo
is comprehensive and well written, the choice of three photographs of astronauts
as the only photos for this section is a bit odd and fails to convey the rich diversity of our species. Although this text provides a good overview of the primates,
it should not be viewed as a source of up-to-date taxonomic views.
The text contains two final sections: “World Distribution of Primates,” and
an appendix that provides a geological time line and metric conversions. The
distribution section is somewhat useful, but relatively crude, dividing the world
into general land mass, political, and/or island groups that do not necessarily
represent zoogeographic areas. As such, it provides only a cursory description of
where the various taxa are found. Graphical representation of this data would
have been much better. The appendix material is useful—especially to the lay
reader, as the various epochs and periods are referred to in the text, and the
wealth of measurements provided in the text use the metric system. The 1.5page index, while well done, provides listings for scientific names only to the
level of genus, and few common names. It provides a starting point, but would
clearly be enhanced by more details.
Despite the lapses noted above, this is in general a very nice text, and at the
price of $19.95, it is clearly a bargain. The sometimes incorrect taxonomic arrangements do not necessarily detract from the quality and utility of the information provided for each group. Additionally, the defining of technical words (e.g.,
cathemeral and cladistic) makes the material accessible to a greater audience.
Given its breadth and its price, it is an especially good reference for the beginning or lay primatologist.
DeeAnn M. Reeder
Department of Biology
Boston University
Boston, MA 02215
REFERENCES
Nowak RM. 1999. Walker’s Mammals of the
World. 6th edition. Baltimore (MD): Johns
Hopkins University Press. 2v, 1936 p.
Rowe N. 1996. The Pictorial Guide to the
Living Primates. New York: Pogonias
Press. 263 p.
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