Professor of Bioanthropology, Dr. Colin Groves, of the Australian National University’s Department of Anthropology has spent sometime studying a population of gray-cheeked mangabey (Lophocebus albigena). And his time spent studying this population has not been in vain. He actually found a novel trait in the skulls of this population of mangabeys, unique enough to be soon be designated as a new species, the Ugandan gray-cheeked mangabey (Lophocebus ugandae), as reported here.
I don’t have a picture of this new species to share you (to the right is a image of a regular gray-cheeked mangabey), nor do I have a publication where Groves documented his findings. Curiously, he,
“had not thought it a priority to publish it – [he has] so many other things to be getting on with.”
But he did present his findings at the International Primatological Society Congress in Entebbe last year and said he will now publish his findings because the forest this new species inhabits, the Mabira Forest, is threatened
“and the loss of this population would probably mean the loss of about a quarter of the total population of what now turns out to be an endemic species.”
Which is commendable. But that statement makes me wonder if the Mabira deforestation pressure not been around, would Groves ever publish his findings?
Furthermore to complicate the validity of this news species, Groves spoke candidly of his method that he used to speciate the new Ugandan mangabey. He calls his method ‘multivariate analyses’ which means to me one relies on two or more variable traits…. but all he shares with the news is one skull measurements! He intends to expand his study, using multivariate analysis to clarify whether other recognized subspecies of Lophocebus albigena can be broken to species level (osmani, johnstoni), which I think is a bit shakey.
I would much rather people sample DNA and use genetic analysis to define a species of primates. And in this case it is possible to do so. Genetic analysis is far more quantitative, definitive, and reliable than measuring skulls (which is a highly variable phenotype between sexes, ages, and environmental/health pressures of primates).