By James Devitt
January 3, 2013
A new species of monkey has been discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by a team of researchers that included NYU anthropologists Andrew Burrell and Anthony Tosi, as well as former NYU doctoral student Kate Detwiler.
Their findings were reported in the online journal PLoS One.
In 2007, a previously undescribed monkey known locally as “lesula” was found in the forests of DRC during a field survey. Named Cercopithecus lomamiensis, it is the second new species of African monkey to be discovered in the past 28 years. The researchers suggested C. lomamiensis remained unknown because the region it populates was not explored by scientists until relatively recently.
C. lomamiensis is a member of the tribe Cercopithecini, or guenons, which are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa and occupy a range of habitats. It is a medium-sized monkey, with adult males measuring 18-26 inches and weighing 9-15 pounds.
The research team determined that it had discovered a new species after employing a series of methodological approaches, including anatomical comparisons, 3D measures of skull shape, and DNA analyses. All showed the lesula to be distinct from other guenons. The genetic work, which was conducted at NYU, revealed that the lesula split from its closest relatives over two million years ago. The researchers bolstered these approaches with recorded measurements of C. lomamiensis’ vocal behavior, which showed frequencies similar to, but not the same as, other species.
“The discovery underlines the fact that we still have gaps in our most basic understanding of the natural world,” says Burrell, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Anthropology’s Center for the Study of Human Origins. “Moreover, it highlights a remarkable but poorly known forest.”
Recent surveys, notes Burrell, have shown that the forest also harbors okapi, bonobos, and elephants, as well as 10 other primate species or subspecies. While Congolean forests are under extreme threat, this forest is very remote and is an excellent candidate for conservation. If efforts are made now to protect it, the lesula and many other plant and animal species can be saved from extinction.