There are nineteen different species of rhesus macaque (scientific name: Macaca mulatta). The real macaques belong to a group of primates called Old World monkeys because they are found only in Africa and Asia, in contrast to New World monkeys, which live in Central and South America. The evolutionary history of macaques is a textbook case of what biologists call an adaptive radiation—a process by which organisms colonize new environments, adapt to the local conditions, and diversify into different species. A key component of rhesus macaques' success has been their ability to adapt to changes in the environment induced by people and to people themselves. A few years ago, some primatologists proposed to call those species that have successfully adapted to human presence “weed macaques,” because rhesus macaques share some characteristics with weeds. This chapter focuses on the evolution and geographical distribution of rhesus macaques. It also looks at their introduction to an island in the Caribbean in the mid-1930s by the American biologist Clarence Ray Carpenter, as well as their use in biomedical research.
Keywords: rhesus macaques; Macaca mulatta; evolution; adaptive radiation; weeds; weed macaques; Caribbean; Clarence Ray Carpenter; biomedical research; geographical distribution
Chapter. 3263 words. Illustrated.
Subjects: Animal Behaviour and Behavioural Ecology
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