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1 December 2012 The Charismatic Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla): A Famous John Doe?
Milena F. Diniz, Daniel Brito
Author Affiliations +
Abstract

Species conservation depends on biological knowledge. This study evaluates the current level of scientific knowledge of the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla). We conducted a bibliographic search in Web of Science and in Edentata and recovered 81 articles related to the species, scattered throughout 47 journals. Ecology represents the most studied research theme (25 articles) and only 12 articles focus on conservation. There are more in situ (48 articles) than ex situ (32 articles) studies. The small number of conservation articles is cause of concern. Unfortunately the lack of basic knowledge may be one of the reasons hampering the implementation of conservation studies.

The current biodiversity crisis is one of the forefront issues in conservation biology (Singh, 2002). A global review of the conservation status of mammals shows that 25% of all known species are listed as threatened by extinction (Schipper et al., 2008). Besides that, mammal population losses predict that more mammal species are likely to decline (Ceballos & Ehrlich, 2002; Yackulic et al., 2011). Biological knowledge on organisms is of utmost importance in attempts to halt population declines (Greene, 2005). Unfortunately, it seems that academic interest in mammal natural history and basic biology is dwindling (Schmidly, 2005; Hafner, 2007; Weigl, 2009; Cotterill & Foissner, 2010). Since current conservation spotlight is skewed towards charismatic species (e.g., Walpole & Leader-Williams, 2002; Home et al., 2009), one might expect that such species are better known by scientists than non-charismatic species (Amori & Gippoliti, 2000). However, this general trend might not hold true for particular species and/ or regions (e.g., Brito et al., 2009).

In order to tackle with this issue, we use the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) as a case study to evaluate the current level of scientific biological knowledge of a charismatic Neotropical species. The giant anteater is a good model for our analysis, since it is charismatic and listed as threatened (under the category Vulnerable), and its population declines are particularly worrisome (IUCN, 2012).

We conducted a bibliographic search in Thomson's ISI Web of Science (< http://portal.isiknowledge.com>) and in the journal Edentata, using as keywords the scientific (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) or the common name (giant anteater) of our focus species. We included in our analyses all articles published between 1957 and 2011. For each article, we collected the following data: (a) year of publication; (b) journal where the article was published; (c) country where the study was conducted (for articles that were based on fieldwork); (d) country of author affiliation; (e) research theme (anatomy, biochemistry, conservation, ecology, ethology, evolution, genetics, histology, microbiology, parasitology, veterinary, zoology); and (f) if the research had an in situ (fieldwork) or an ex situ (e.g., zoos, captive populations) approach.

FIGURE 1.

Total number of articles on giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) biology published in journals indexed in Thomson's ISI Web of Science (< http://portal.isiknowledge.com>) and in Edentata per decade.

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Our search recovered 81 articles on the giant anteater published between 1957 and 2011 (a mean value of 1.5 articles per year throughout the period) (see APPENDIX 1 for a list of articles retrieved in our bibliographic search). It is noticeable that there is an increase of articles across time with the majority of publications targeting the species originating in the last decade (FIG. 1). The giant anteater was the focus of research in 54 articles (single-species articles), while it was a secondary objective present in broader-approach articles (e.g., multi-species articles on mammals) in 27 articles. The articles on giant anteater biology are scattered throughout 46 different journals indexed in Thomson's ISI Web of Science plus Edentata (FIG. 2). Only eight journals published more than one article focusing on the species, concentrating 52% of all published articles in these few periodicals (FIG. 2). The majority of studies on giant anteaters were conducted in Brazil (both in situ and ex situ studies) and the USA (ex situ studies) (FIG. 3). The majority of researchers working with the species are also affiliated to institutions located in Brazil and the USA (FIG. 4). Ecology and anatomy are the research themes that accumulate more articles (FIG. 5). A total of ten articles deal with conservation of the giant anteater (FIG. 5). There are 44 articles focusing on giant anteaters in the wild (in situ), 28 articles on ex situ research (captive breeding, zoos, museums), and three articles both with in situ and ex situ issues.

FIGURE 2.

Number of journals indexed in Thomson's ISI Web of Science plus Edentata that have published articles on giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) biology.

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It is surprising that the overall knowledge for such a charismatic species is not that comprehensive. Even though our results show a wide array of themes, there are relatively few articles for each area of knowledge ( FIG. 5 ). Besides that, even though the giant anteater is a widespread species in the Neotropics (IUCN, 2012), in situ studies cover only a small number of sites/populations (TABLE 1 ) and suggest that current knowledge is not necessarily representative of the species as a whole. This might be a problem as giant anteater populations are declining throughout the species range (IUCN, 2012). The absolute number of articles focusing on the conservation of the giant anteater is still low in the face of the conservation status of this charismatic species. It seems that the idea that charismatic species are well-known by science does not hold true for the giant anteater, making it is a famous John Doe of wildlife conservation.

TABLE 1.

A list of sites that have been the target of in situ studies on giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) biology. See Appendix 1 for complete citations.

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FIGURE 3.

Countries where research on giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) biology was conducted.

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FIGURE 4.

Number of authors working on giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) biology per country of affiliation.

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FIGURE 5.

Number of articles on giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) biology per research theme.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers and Mariella Superina who provided valuable comments and suggestions in the manuscript. Milena F. Diniz thanks CNPq for a PIBIC scholarship. Daniel Brito's research is supported by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) (project #305631/2009–8).

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Appendices

APPENDIX 1. List of published scientific literature on giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) biology.

Araujo, M. S., M. Ciuccio, A. V. Cazon & E. B. Casanave. 2010. Differentiation of Xenarthra (Mammalia) species through the identification of their fecal bile acid patterns: An ecological tool. Revista Chilena de Historia Natural: 557–566.

Barros, M., I. Sampaio & H. Schneider. 2003. Phylogenetic analysis of 16S mitochondrial DNA data in sloths and anteaters. Genetics and Molecular Biology 26: 5–11.

Bartmann, C. P., C. Beyer & H. Wissdorf. 1991. Topography of the organs of the pelvic cavity and macroscopic and histologic findings of the sex organs of a male giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) with regard to fertility. Berliner und Münchener Tierärztliche Wochenschrift 104: 41–46.

Bechara, G.H., M. P. J. Szabó, W. V. Almeida-Filho, J. N. Bechara, R. J. G. Pereira, J. E. Garcia & M. C. Pereira. 2002. Ticks associated with armadillo Euphractus sexcinctus and anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla of Emas National Park, state of Goiás, Brazil. Annals of the New York Academy of Science 969: 290–293.

Braga, F. G., R. E. F. Santos & A. C. Batista. 2010. Marking behavior of the giant anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla (Mammalia: Myrmecophagidae) in southern Brazil. Zoologia 27: 7–12.

Brainard, B. M., A. Newton, K. C. Hinshaw & A. M. Klide. 2008. Tracheostomy in the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 39: 655–658.

Brooks, D. M. 1995. Distribution and limiting factors of edentates in the Paraguayan Chaco. Edentata 2: 10–15. Cáceres, N. 2011. Biological characteristics of mammals influence road kill in an Atlantic Forest-Cerrado interface in south-western Brazil. Italian Journal of Zoology 78: 379–389.

Camilo-Alves, C. de S. P. & G. Mourão. 2006. Responses of a specialized insectivorous mammal (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) to variation in ambient temperature. Biotropica 38: 52–56.

Carregaro, A. B., P. M. Gerardi & D. K. Honsho. 2009. Allometric scaling of chemical restraint associated with inhalant anesthesia in giant anteaters. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 45: 547–551.

Cavalcanti, S. M. C. & E. M. Gese. 2010. Kill rates and predation patterns of jaguars (Panthern onca) in the southern Pantanal, Brazil. Journal of Mammalogy 91: 722–736.

Coke, R. L., J. W. Carpenter, T. Aboellail, L. Armbrust & R. Isaza. 2002. Dilated cardiomyopathy and amebic gastritis in a giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 33: 272–279.

Collevatti, R. G., K. C. E. Leite, G. H. B. Miranda & F. H. G. Rodrigues. 2007. Evidence of high inbreeding in a population of the endangered giant anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla (Myrmecophagidae), from Emas National Park, Brazil. Genetics and Molecular Biology 30: 112–120.

Cutolo, A. A., M. B. Labruna, F. B. Tonin & I. F. Sartor. 2000. Amblyomma calcaratum parasitizing giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) in the state of São Paulo. Arquivo Brasileiro de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia 52: 152–153.

Dahroug, M. A. A., N. C. M. R. Turbino, L. D. Guimarães, C. H. da S. Justino & R. L. de Souza. 2009. Stabilization of radius and ulna fractures in a giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla). Acta Scientiae Veterinariae 37: 65–68.

Dantas-Torres, F, D. R. Ferreira, L. M. de Melo, P. A. Lima, D. B. Siqueira, L. C. Rameh-de-Albuquerque, A. V. de Melo & J. A. Ramos. 2010. Ticks on captive and free-living wild animals in northeastern Brazil. Experimental and Applied Acarology 50: 181–189.

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Endo, H., T. Komiya, S. Kawada, A. Hayashida, J. Kimura, T. Itou, H. Koie & T. Sakai. 2009. Three-dimensional reconstruction of the xenarthrous process of the thoracic and lumber vertebrae in the giant anteater. Mammal Study 34: 1–6.

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Medri, Í M., G. Mourão & A. Y. Harada. 2003. Dieta de tamanduá-bandeira (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) no Pantanal da Nhecolândia, Brasil. Edentata 5: 29–34.

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Meyers, M. A. 2003. Giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) diet survey. Edentata 5: 20–24. Mourão, G. & Í. M. Medri. 2002. A new way of using inexpensive large-scale assembled GPS to monitor giant anteaters in short time intervals. Wildlife Society Bulletin 30: 1029–1032.

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Milena F. Diniz and Daniel Brito "The Charismatic Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla): A Famous John Doe?," Edentata 13(1), 76-83, (1 December 2012). https://doi.org/10.5537/020.013.0108
Received: 31 August 2012; Accepted: 20 October 2012; Published: 1 December 2012
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