We examined historical and ecological factors affecting current primate biodiversity in Southeast Asia. In Africa, Madagascar and South America, but not Southeast Asia, primate species richness is positively associated with average rainfall and distance from the equator (latitude). We predicted that Southeast Asia's non-conformance may be due to the effect of dispersed Pleistocene refuges (locations of constricted tropical forests during glacial maxima which today are at least 305 m in altitude). Based on 45 forested sites (13 on large islands; 32 on the mainland) of at least 100 km2 to minimize recent human impact, we determined correlations between extant primate species richness and rainfall, latitude and supplementary ecological variables, while controlling for refuges and islands. We found that refuge sites had significantly higher primate species richness than non-refuges (t = –2.76, P < 0.05), and distance from the nearest Pleistocene refuge was negatively correlated with species richness for non-refuge sites (r = –0.51, P < 0.05). There was no difference in species richness between sites on large islands and the mainland (t = –1.4, P = 0.16). The expected positive relationship between rainfall and species richness was not found (r = 0.17, P = 0.28). As predicted, primate species richness was negatively correlated with latitude (r = –0.39, P < 0.05) and positively correlated with mean temperature (r = 0.45, P < 0.05). General linear models indicated that a site's latitude (F1,38 = 6.18, P < 0.05) and Pleistocene refuge classification (F1,42 = 5.96, P < 0.05) were the best predictors of species richness. Both ecological and historical factors contribute to present day primate species richness in Southeast Asia, making its biodiversity less of an outlier than previously believed.