Investment in science can mitigate the negative impacts of land use on declining primate populations

Xumao Zhao, Xinrui Li, Paul A. Garber, Xinzhang Qi, Zuofu Xiang, Xiang Liu, Zhongmin Lian, Ming Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Changes in land use and the conversion of natural forests to agricultural fields and cattle pastures are threatening the survival of many species of wild animals, including nonhuman primates. Given its almost 1.4 billion people, China faces a difficult challenge in balancing economic development, human well-being, environmental protection, and animal conservation. We examined the effects of poverty, anthropogenic land use (cropland and pasture/grazing), human population growth, government investment in science and public attention to primates during the period from the 1980s to 2015 on primate population persistence in China. We analyzed these data using generalized mixed-effects models, structural equation models (SEM) and random forests (a machine learning technique). We found that 16 of 21 (76%) primate species in China, for which data are available, have experienced a population decline over the past 35 years. Factors contributing most to primate population decline included human poverty and the conversion of natural habitat to cropland. In contrast, the five species of primates that were characterized by recent population increases were the subjects of substantial government research funding and their remaining distribution occurs principally in protected areas (PAs). We argue that increased funding for research, the establishment and expansion of PAs, a national policy focused on reducing poverty, and educational programs designed to inform and encourage local people to participate in scientific investigation and wildlife protection, can mitigate the negative impacts of historical patterns of land conversion on primate population survival in China.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23302
JournalAmerican journal of primatology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • conservation
  • human activities
  • human poverty
  • protected areas
  • scientific research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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