Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 August 2009
Anthropoid primates are found throughout the tropical regions of Africa, South and Central America, India and south-east Asia, extending into subtropical regions in Africa and South America, and in east Asia into temperate latitudes as far north as Japan (Wolfheim, 1983; Napier & Napier, 1985; Richard, 1985; Fleagle, 1999). Throughout this range, they occupy a variety of habitats. However, given that roughly 90% of all primate species world-wide are restricted to tropical forest habitats (Mittermeier, 1988), the distribution of the majority is best described by the distribution of the forest biome. Anthropoid primates have a relatively young evolutionary history. In the Old World, they have undergone two major radiations during the Miocene epoch (22–5 mya): hominoids and cercopithecoids, including both colobines and cercopithecines (baboons, macaques, mangabeys, geladas, and guenons: Richard, 1985; Hamilton, 1988; Leakey, 1988; Fleagle, 1999). The evolutionary history of the New World anthropoids is less well recorded, but most modern groups are recognizable from the Miocene (Fleagle, 1999) and several extant genera are thought to have diversified during the Plio-Pleistocene (5 mya–10 000 BP; e.g., callitrichines Kinzey, 1982; see also Fleagle & Reed, chapter 6, this volume). These radiations are associated with major environmental changes and the current distribution of anthropoids is to a large extent a consequence of the climatic events that took place during the late Quaternary. In a comparatively short time, anthropoid primates have become a relatively diverse group and comprise an important component of the mammalian community particularly within the forest biome.
Within this broad range, there are a number of clear biogeographical patterns that describe the distribution of anthropoid primates at a large scale.