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  CARATINGA BIOLOGICAL STATION  
     
 

The area known today as the Reserva Particular do Patrimônio Natural (RPPN)-Feliciano Miguel Abdala was first introduced to the scientific community by zoologist Álvaro Aguirre, whose classic work about the muriqui was published in 1971. But it was not until the beginning of the 1980s, with the rediscovery of the muriqui, that zoologists from the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), under the leadership of Celio Valle, initiated a campaign for the protection and scientific study of this area. In response, primatologists and conservationists stimulated by Russell A. Mittermeier, Adelmar F. Coimbra Filho e Ibsen G. Câmara joined Celio Valle's group from UFMG in an international collaborative effort to study and preserve the local biodiversity. Their efforts on behalf of the muriqui also revealed the presence of another endangered primate, the buffy-headed marmoset that had been thought to be restricted to the state of Espirito Santo.

In addition to the presence of the muriqui and the buffy-headed marmoset, the researchers found that the area had a high population density of brown howler monkeys and tufted capuchin monkeys, and realized its tremendous potential for the development of research on primates. With support from the owner of the farm, Feliciano Miguel Abdala, as well as UFMG, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the Brazilian Foundation for the Conservation of Nature (FBCN), the Biological Station of Caratinga (EBC) was inaugurated in May 1983. In the same year, the muriqui was selected as the symbol of the meeting of the Brazilian Society of Zoology, held in Belo Horizonte, where the new discoveries from Caratinga first became widely known.

The Abdala family has always welcomed Brazilian and foreign scientists and conservationists alike. In the early years,

 
 

researchers spent their days in the forest and their nights at Senior Feliciano's own home. Despite his legendary hospitality, he recognized that field research is an arduous undertaking, and by donating a house with easier access to the forest, he facilitated the researchers' work. The inauguration of the Biological Station, marked a major advancement, for it provided an essential infrastructure for long-term studies, like the Muriqui Project, to be maintained.

In 2001, due to the initiative of the Abdalla family and support from scientists and conservationists, the EBC was declared a Private Natural Heritage Reserve by IBAMA. In becoming the RPPN-FMA, it consolidated the efforts initiated more than 30 years by Álvaro Aguirre.

The significance of the RPPN-FMA extends beyond the sanctuary it provides for muriquis and other endemic Atlantic Forest fauna and flora, for it also symbolizes an ongoing commitment to the value of long-term research efforts. Surveys have spanned both plant and animal kingdoms, confirming the presence of a unique diversity of life forms, several of which are restricted to only a few Atlantic forest fragments. From amphibians to birds, from mollusks to insects, and from moss to large trees, the species inventory of the RPPN-FMA will continue to grow as new research endeavors are launched.

The RPPN-FMA has already gained an International reputation as a center for field science, with the tong-term studies on its primate inhabitants largely responsible for its fame. The first systematic studies ever conducted on the Buffy-headed marmoset, brown howler monkey, and northern muriqui were initiated here in the early 1980s. All three of these primates are endangered and endemic to Brazilian Atlantic forest, yet the behavior and ecology of these primates, like so much else in this forest, were previously unknown. Celio Valle and his students were the first to bring the forest and its primates into the public domain, but the list of researchers who followed them is now too long to name. Since Aguirre's first publication, there have been 22 independent research projects, four undergraduate monographs, 24 Masters' dissertations, 10 PhD theses, and one post-doctoral study.

The Muriqui Project of Caratinga, now in its 24th year and still the longest-running study of its kind, represents what can be accomplished when the goals of scientists and conservationists coincide. Scientific discoveries about the muriquis include their exceptionally peaceful social lives and their ability to find the food they require in a forest that is limited in size. Monitoring the muriquis' remarkable reproductive system has revealed how small populations can recover when they and their forests are protected, and helped to stimulate new research initiatives into the ecological conditions responsible for their success.

The RPPN-FMA is also extremely important in the context of research on habitat fragmentation, a critical subject in conservation biology. The RPPN-FMA is an island of about 1,000 hectares of Atlantic forest, surrounded by deforested areas, and the research on the forest is highly relevant to understanding the effects of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity. The long-term studies conducted at the RPPN-FMA provide information on the dynamics of populations and ecosystems that cannot be obtained from the kinds of short-term studies that have often been conducted in other areas.

In addition to its support of basic science, the RPPN-FMA has facilitated international cooperation. It also serves another function, for it provides a training ground for students to learn what fieldwork is all about. In its first two decades, more than 30 Brazilian students have participated on the Muriqui Project alone, and many have gone on to develop related research that contributes to conservation efforts elsewhere. Such long-term international collaborations are not as common as one might think, yet those forged at the RPPN-FMA have been successful because of our shared commitment to the dual importance of research and conservation here.

The research at the RPPN-FMA has adhered to the highest standards of ethical scientific conduct, with the conservation of the forest and its inhabitants the top-most priority. The Muriqui Project has expanded to other parts of the forest, where systematic ecological studies involving forest phenology and primary productivity are underway, and to include non-invasive investigations into the genetic variability of the entire population. The inclusion of the RPPN-FMA in Conservation Internationals new TEAM program marks the beginning of a new phase in its history by bringing the scientific value of the research station into comparative perspective. As research efforts expand, the primary scientific function of the RPPN-FMA will continue to reflect its contributions to conservation and the role that science can play in securing not only the future of this forest and its inhabitants, but also as a model that is applicable to other sites.
Karen Strier