The researchers followed the monkeys for four years, collecting data on how far the animals ranged, what they ate and which parasites were infecting them.
In those four years, red colobus populations in forest fragments declined 20 percent, whereas populations of black-and-white colobus monkeys remained relatively stable. Both species maintained stable populations in the undisturbed forest.
Scientists have struggled to explain why closely related animals, like these two species of monkeys, can fare so differently in forest fragments. The answer, Gillespie said, lies in a complex interplay of factors, with parasites and nutrition playing key roles.
The researchers focused on two nematodes known to cause significant pathology in monkeys: a whipworm, (Trichuris sp.), and a nodule worm (Oesophagostomum sp.). While feeding on leaves, the monkeys ingest the larval forms of these worms. The larvae mature in the intestines, where they can cause blockages or other damage. The nematodes migrate through blood vessels, causing inflammation, organ damage and, sometimes, death.
The researchers found a higher density of parasites in the forest fragments than in the undisturbed forest. They also found new parasites not seen in the undisturbed forest.
Several of the parasites in these animals in the fragments never occur in undisturbed forest, and some of these novel parasites are definitely from livestock or people, Gillespie said. The red colobus monkeys were infected with five of these human or livestock parasites; the black and white colobus carried only two.
Other differences between the two species affect their vulnerability to parasitic infection. Red colobus monkeys congregate and live in large groups, with up to 50 members, compared with about 10 members in the black-and-white groups. Red colobus monkeys eat a much more varied diet. This causes them to travel farther, searching for the foods they need. But many
|Contact: Diana Yates|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign