PUCRS professor first Latin American to win global award on primates

Júlio César Bicca-Marques recognized by American Society of Primatologists for his work

30/11/2021 - 17h35

Photo: Matheus Gomes

Dr. Júlio César Bicca-Marques, School of Health and Life Sciences professor and researcher, and Coordinator of the Undergraduate Research Programs, has won the Distinguished Primatologist Award 2021. The distinction was given by the American Society of Primatologists (ASP) for primatologists – professionals who studies non-human primates – with notable careers.

Bicca-Marques was the first primatologist outside the United States and Canada to receive this award. Since its creation, in 1989, 24 professionals from institutions in these two countries have won it. On top of that, he received an invitation to be a keynote speaker at the next ASP congress, in August 2022, in Denver, USA.

According to the professor, receiving this award not only symbolizes how notable his individual professional career is, but also highlights the quality of science developed in Latin America. “In addition to this personal significance, this award symbolizes something much bigger. It is about the quality of science developed in Brazil and Latin America, with financial and logistical conditions much more complicated than those in economically rich countries. This has a much higher impact at this time as we are engulfed in denialism and as the national policies on science, technology, education, environmental protection and social inclusion are being dismantled”, he adds.

Leading role in Primatology

Júlio César Bicca-Marques is recognized for his important scientific contributions in the area of Primatology in Brazil and abroad. His research focuses on different areas: a) the importance of understanding that the lives of primates are shaped by spatial restriction resulting from deforestation; b) their survival in the environments influenced by human activities; and c) the importance of fruits in the diet of monkeys in these environments.

Bicca-Marques stands out for his experimental field approach in the areas of Cognitive Ecology and Social Foraging. His research on Cognitive Ecology aims to identify the information different species of monkeys use when searching for food, especially fruits. The following aspects are evaluated: vision (color, size, shape); smell; food predictability; selection of areas with different amounts of food, among other aspects. Research on social foraging, on the other hand, aims to identify the strategies each monkey in the group uses to gain access to a food that is desired by their peers.

Research and extension on wild yellow fever

Since the outbreak of yellow fever, in 2008 and 2009, in Rio Grande do Sul, the professor has developed a number of studies into wild yellow fever. As a result of the dissemination of misleading information by mainstream media and the attacks on monkeys due to misinformation during the outbreak, Bicca-Marques created the campaign Protect Your Guardian Angel. The idea was to raise people’s awareness of the fact that monkeys act as sentinel surveillants for the circulation of the virus. As they die, they signal the presence of the virus and the need for vaccines in humans.

The campaign was successful in helping the mainstream media to change their attitude towards the role of monkeys in the cycle of the disease. In 2018, Bicca-Marques also spearheaded a public petition by Rainforest Rescue demanding that Netflix corrected wrong information about the association of howler monkeys with yellow fever, in the 7th episode of the series “72 Animais Perigosos: América Latina”. Consequently, the episode was re-recorded in less than 30 days.

In his career, he served as a leader in several scientific societies such as the International Primatological Society, Sociedade Brasileira de Primatologia and Sociedad Latinoamericana de Primatología. He serves as editor for Neotropical Primates; associate editor of the International Journal of Primatology Society, Primates and Tropical Conservation Science; and editor for American Journal of Primatology and Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment. He has also reviewed as many as 250 papers on primates submitted to more of 60 journals and scientific books.

Academic Career

Júlio César Bicca-Marques is known as a trail blazer for several professionals. He is known for his strong presence in the academia as a professor and coordinator of Undergraduate Research programs. In his career, he advised more than 40 Undergraduate Research students and 33 graduate students (26 Master’s and 7 PhDs) in the Graduate Program in in Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity of PUCRS.

His passion for his line of research is outstanding. Bicca-Marques points out that humans are primates too, and that our close kinship is one of the reasons why it is important for us to study non-human primates. “In addition to understanding the structural and functional similarities of the body, behavioral and cognitive characteristics, it is important to study these fascinating animals because they play crucial roles in ecosystems”, he points out.

The importance of primate studies

Currently, about 60% of species are endangered and 75% of the world’s primate populations are in decline. Here are some of the reasons, to name a few: habitat destruction, hunting, trafficking and infectious diseases, among other threats directly related to the predatory and unsustainable way in which human beings interact with nature.

Non-human primates can act as pollinators, dispersing seeds that promote forest regeneration, predators, prey and many other functions. They are fundamental in maintaining the health of ecosystems and in mitigating climate change via carbon storage, production of “flying rivers” that supply water to agricultural production,

protection of the soil against erosion, including the maintenance of fresh water sources that supply our cities and crops, among others.

Passion and dedication for research

Bicca-Marques stresses the importance of studying primates and encourages and advises students interested in pursuing a scientific career. He advises his students to always seek to do what they love and enjoy and maintain critical thinking and creativity in their journey. “Do more than what everybody else does. Be earnest, dedicated and determined: always do your best under available conditions. Finally, I would advise them to learn to vibrate with each minor achievement towards the achievement of personal objectives and goals”, he encourages.

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