Biological correlates of description date in carnivores and primates


Correspondence: Ben Collen, Department of Biological Sciences, Imperial College London, Silwood Park campus, Ascot SL5 7PY, UK. E-mail:


Aim  To examine which aspects of primates and carnivore biology can be used to predict attributes of species yet to be discovered.

Location  Global.

Methods  Multiple regressions of phylogenetically independent contrasts and non-phylogenetic species date of description, on multiple biological predictor variables, formed from previous hypotheses tested in the literature.

Results  Orders differ, but both carnivore and primate species with a large geographical range tend to have been discovered earlier. When geographical range is controlled for, body mass is also significantly correlated with description date in carnivores, but remains a poor predictor in primates. No multiple-predictor model is apparent in the primates, but diurnal species are on average more likely to be described first. Carnivores not endemic to the tropics are more likely to be discovered earlier, reflecting a northern bias in description patterns.

Main conclusions  Geographical range is by far the most important predictor variable. The study may have ramifications for conservation hotspot selection: species possessing a small geographical range are least likely to have been described, yet are most heavily weighted in some hotspot selection algorithms.