Contributors to this issue of the American Journal of Primatology were among the participants in an invited symposium at the 2008 Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation meeting in Paramaribo, Suriname. They were asked to assess how essential primates are to tropical ecosystems and, given their research interests, discuss how primate research contributes to the broader understanding about how ecosystems function. This introduction to the issue is divided into three parts: a review of the roles that nonhuman primates play in tropical ecosystems; the implementation of large-scale landscape methods used to identify primate densities; and concerns about the increasingly porous boundaries between humans, nonhuman primates, and pathogens. Although 20th century primate research created a rich database on individual species, including both theoretical and descriptive approaches, the dual effects of high human population densities and widespread habitat destruction should warn us that creative, interdisciplinary and human-related research is needed to solve 21st century problems. Am. J. Primatol. 73:3–8, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.