By: Kristin Abt
The Lion-tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus) is an endangered cercopithecine primate native to the Western Ghats region of India, described as one of the primary hotspots of biodiversity in the world (Kumara & Singh, 2004). IUCN (2010) estimates a mere 2,500 mature individuals with a total population size of 4,000 individuals. Furthermore, these monkeys (LTMs) exist in an estimated 47 subpopulations in 7 locations. Their serious status merits continuing intense and collaborative research on their demographics, current pressures, and the effects of habitat fragmentation, which appears to be the primary concern for their long-term survival in the wild.
Ecology and Distribution
These Old World monkeys have cheek pouches with simple stomachs, long, non-prehensile tails, an opposable hallux and pollex, hardened ischial callosities, and close, downward facing nostrils. They are diurnal with complex, matrilineal social systems normally with one adult male and one subadult male to multiple females and their offspring. Males disperse and females display estrus swellings to advertise their reproductive status. They have an average group size of 18 with a range of 7 to 40 individuals (Umapathy & Kumar, 2000b). Compared to other macaque species, Umapathy and Kumar point out that they have a slower life history with females reproducing first at 6.6 years and having a birth rate of 0.31 infants/female/year thereafter. This overall low prolificacy with delayed sexual maturity, long interbirth interval, and low population turnover presents an additional challenge when groups must respond to external survival pressures.
The LTM differs from other macaque species additionally through its primarily arboreal nature. Menon and Poirier (1996) emphasize this characteristic through the documentation of 3 falls and one subsequent death from tree gaps. In places with incontiguous canopy cover, individuals exhibited a strong preference to exert considerable effort to cross large holes in the canopy without descending to the ground. Ramachandran and Joseph (2000) discuss the conservation and sustainability implications of this in that LTMs failed to range into adjacent areas disrupted by fire or eucalypt and teak plantations in order to exhaust nearby resources in neighboring forest fragments.
Individuals are found only in the Western Ghats region in the three states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu and have been studied extensively in such national and private evergreen forests as Silent Valley in the Palghat district (Ramachandran & Joseph, 2000), the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary in Anamalai Hills (Umapathy & Kumar, 2000a & b), Brahmagiri-Makut and Sirsi-Honnovara (Kumara and Singh 2004), the Puthuthotam Cardamom Forest (Menon & Poirier, 1996), and the Kudremukh Forest Complex (Kumara & Singh, 2008). Within these locations, it has been found that the LTMs prefer habitat primarily between 300m asl – 900m asl (Kumara & Singh, 2008). It is estimated that almost 40% of the remaining population exist as small groups found in isolated, highly fragmented forests in these areas (Umapathy & Kumar, 2000a). As one goes from South to North within their range, group size has been shown to increase (Kumara & Singh, 2004).
Within their habitat, LTMs serve as “one of the most important habitat specialist primates in India” (Ramachandran & Joseph, 2000). Sushma and Singh (2006) found that compared to other arboreal mammals, such as bonnet macaques (Macaca radiata), Nilgiri langurs (Semnopithecus johnii), and the Indian giant squirrel (Ratufa indica), LTMs have the narrowest niche breadth with some overlap with bonnet macaques, which indicates a degree of competition where these animals must coexist. Ramachandran and Joseph (2000) point out that they seldom range outside of their evergreen forest even into the deciduous areas. They also reported that LTMs feed primarily (91%) on plant matter with the remainder consisting of invertebrates, which is a higher amount than other macaque species (Sushma & Singh, 2006). Ramachandran & Joseph (2000) found that they formed significant associations with 6 major tree species, especially Cullenia. These are needed in the proper abundance in order to sustain the primates; however, some flexibility is present. Menon and Poirier (1996) note that, in times of food scarcity, individuals supplement their diet with Artocarpus and Coffea trees in nearby forested plantations. Because they are highly frugivorous and consume large amounts of figs (Sushma & Singh, 2006), they must range significant distances in order to find sufficient food for the group. Fruit, as a seasonal and patchy resource, offers a lot of carbohydrates, but not a good amount of protein. As a result, invertebrates comprise a relatively large amount of their diet in order to provide the necessary nutrition for successful reproduction (Umapathy & Kumar, 2000a). Juveniles spend a significantly larger amount of time feeding on these, suggesting their importance for proper growth and development, as well.
Conservation Threats due to Habitat Fragmentation
When primate groups are found in highly fragmented habitat, this presents serious survival pressures for themselves and for those individuals in neighboring forests without the opportunity for gene flow. McGarigal and Cushman (2002) define habitat fragmentation as a “landscape level process in which a specific habitat is progressively subdivided into smaller and more isolated fragments.” They further discuss how it encompasses a change in landscape composition, structure, and function. Because habitat fragmentation, along with habitat loss, is considered to be one of the main influences causing the incredible mass extinction of species that is currently occurring, studying the effects of this in order to produce urgent and important management strategies is paramount.
Thus far, a number of studies of the LTM have discovered relevant consequences to the habitat fragmentation continually occurring within their range. In reference to the demographics of social groups, the effects of habitat fragmentation have been to significantly change the composition naturally found in contiguous and undisturbed sections of forest. Specifically, Umapathy and Kumar (2000b) found near significance with smaller fragments containing larger group sizes compared to larger fragments. Also, it appears that there is more likely to be two adult males in a social group of a small fragment than the typical one male: multiple females found in larger fragment sizes. Significantly, there is a positive correlation between fragment size and the number of immatures and birth rate. The authors cite possible factors for this as increased predation pressures and resource shortages. Kumara and Singh (2004) classified health of a population by a high overall presence of groups with the modal group size, favorable sex ratio, and a large percentage of immature individuals; therefore, the findings from the previous study provide further support to their criteria as valid to use when investigating the demographics of LTMs in fragmented areas.
Studies have also investigated how vegetation status in relation to level of fragmentation affects these primates. Umapathy and Kumar (2000a) found that individuals spent significantly less time feeding on invertebrates, a key component to their diet, in smaller fragments. Additionally, the least disturbed fragments contained the highest plant abundance. In areas with colonized species, such as mangos and guava, the macaques added these to their diet, which might slightly compensate for the loss in space and flora diversity; however, it could also contribute to human-wildlife conflict. Furthermore, these researchers (2000b) also demonstrated a positive correlation between the quality of vegetation and the amount of fragmentation.
Along with demographic and dietary changes, significant changes occur in disturbed populations with respect to the groups’ overall behaviors and activity patterns. Menon and Poirier (1996) studied individuals in a private forest that experienced selective logging and clearing for planting on the floor and found that the primates used the ground often for ranging and foraging out of necessity, but still much preferred the trees – even when travelling in such a manner presented serious and mortal danger due to the lack of sufficient canopy continuity. They were also forced to cross roads and raid fruit in neighboring plantations, which resulted in human-wildlife conflict and deterrence measures implemented. Furthermore, the individuals needed to increase their time ranging, which seriously impacted their ability to feed and engage in necessary social behaviors. Especially relevant to small, isolated populations is the inability to disperse naturally, which Debinski and Holt (2000) discuss and, consequently, suggest corridors for landscape connectivity, especially for highly mobile animals. Without proper gene flow and the opportunities for appropriate social groups to form, the long-term survival of this species is severely threatened, which is already evidenced by the results of lower numbers of juveniles in these fragmented groups.
In addition to the restriction of available habitat and isolation of existing groups, human-wildlife conflict has placed significant pressure on their survival. Along with plantations cultivated for teak and eucalypt and areas that are clear felled for tea and coffee, humans also use the forest areas for wood gathering, logging, and hunting of the LTMs and other fauna (Kumara & Singh, 2000b; Menon & Poirier, 1996). Fragments also increase the likelihood of the macaques coming into human contact and the likelihood that humans will disturb the forest.
As with so many conservation stories, this one can greatly benefit from increased attention, education, and priority at numerous levels. Over recent years, the LTM has featured less prominently in North American zoo collections despite its endangered status, declining populations, charismatic appearance, and active nature (Association of Zoos and Aquariums, 1998). Additionally, few conservation and education efforts are currently in place to support its population (AZA, 1998). While research into its populations and its behavioral ecology are important to further understand the species, additional efforts to increase gene flow between populations, protect its forest habitat, and address conflicts with agriculture are needed for this macaque species to persist.
Association of Zoos and Aquariums. 1998. Lion-tailed macaque 98 fact sheet. Retrieved February 8, 2011, from Web site: http://www.nagonline.net/Fact%20Sheet%20pdf/AZA%20-%20Lion-Tailed%20Macaque%20 Species%20Survival%20Plan.pdf
Debinski, D. M. and R. D. Holt. 2000. A survey and overview of habitat fragmentation experiments. Conservation Biology 14: 342–355.
IUCN. 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved February 8, 2011, from Web site: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/12559
Kumara, H. N. and M. Singh. 2004. Distribution and abundance of primates in rain forests of the Western Ghats, Karnataka, India and the conservation of Macaca silenus. International Journal of Primatology 25: 1001–1018.
Kumara, H. N. and V. R. Singh. 2008. Status of Macaca silenus in the Kudremukh Forest Complex, Karnataka, India. International Journal of Primatology 29: 773–781.
McGarigal, K. and S. A. Cushman. 2002. Comparative evaluation of experimental approaches to the study of habitat fragmentation effects. Ecological Applications 12: 335–345.
Menon, S. and F. E. Poirier. 1996. Lion-tailed Macaques (Macaca silenus) in a disturbed forest fragment: Activity patterns and time budget. International Journal of Primatology 17: 969–985.
Ramachandran, K. K. and G. K. Joseph. 2000. Habitat utilization of lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus) in Silent Valley National Park, Kerala, India. Primate Report 58: 17–25.
Sushma, H. S. and M. Singh. 2006. Resource partitioning and interspecific interactions among sympatric rain forest arboreal mammals of the Western Ghats, India. Behavioral Ecology 17: 479–490.
Umapathy, G. and A. Kumar. 2000a. Impacts of the habitat fragmentation on time budget and feeding ecology of lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus) in rain forest fragments of Anamalai Hills, South India. Primate Report 58: 67–82.
Umapathy, G. and A. Kumar. 2000b. The demography of the Lion-tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus) in rain forest fragments in the Anamalai Hills, South India. Primates 41: 119–126.
By: Kristin Abt
Recently published online in the International Journal of Primatology, an article by Humle, Colin, Laurans, and Raballand (2010) discusses the release of a group of 12 chimpanzeees into the High Niger National Park in Guinea, West Africa. Through the efforts of the Chimpanzee Conservation Center, 9 chimpanzees remain in natural habitat at the time of publication. The conservation benefits of this substantial undertaking are numerous:
- While the park already has a viable population of chimpanzees, this effort adds reproductively mature individuals and genetic material to the endangered wild population.
- Additionally, with over 1000 chimpanzees in sanctuaries and other facilities rather than in the wild, the need to address their long-term management is acute. Not only is the individual welfare of the released chimpanzees enhanced, this scientific study of the release process will also aid conservation practitioners in the implementation of future chimpanzee rehabilitation.
- As the authors point out, the conservation status and role of the release area is promoted to the government and general public, which will hopefully bolster its future capacity to serve as suitable habitat for many species.
Previous reintroduction efforts have led to the adoption of an overall chimpanzee reintroduction plan that emphasizes adequate rehabilitation training for individuals and substantial monitoring following release. In order to determine an appropriate area for release, the authors cite numerous components, including habitat suitability (food, other resources, terrain, etc.), level of and proximity to human pressures, and the overall ability of chimpanzees to thrive in the absence of human involvement. Further, in order to monitor the activities of the chimpanzees, researchers used radiotracking collars on released individuals.
The release site was chosen in part due to its strict protection as a core area within the park and its minimal roads. The demographics of the released individuals were 6 males and 6 females ranging from 8 to 20 years of age. Information included in the article details the social familiarity of the group, survival skills possessed by the individuals, and the number of years each had access to formative “bush-outings” with caretakers and expansive, naturalistic enclosures. Additionally, the researchers verified the genetic appropriateness of the subspecies (Pan troglodytes verus) and the overall health of each chimpanzee. The article also provides a 20 month timeline of events relevant to the release process including group dynamics, deaths, births, and sightings with wild chimpanzees.
Humle et al (2010) discusses the ranging patterns and habitat use of the released chimpanzees to obtain an overall picture of their behavior compared to typical wild chimpanzees in the area. Released males traveled significantly further than released females as measured by maximum mean distance travelled. They also remained significantly further from the release site than the females. Overall, the chimpanzees preferred forested areas over open space. Within the mixed forest-savanna habitat where the chimpanzees were released, the individuals remain independent of human provisioning. Additionally, two chimpanzees have been born to released females. Humle et al (2010) suggests that part of the success of the released chimpanzees could be due to the lower population densities of wild chimpanzees in the mixed habitat type along with their relatively larger ranges.
A number of agencies and professionals will ultimately contribute to the conservation efforts of a given species, as noted by the authors. This paper attempted to combine data on behavior, ecology, conservation, and wildlife management in order to approach the multi-faceted undertaking of chimpanzee rehabilitation. As with many conservation projects, communication and an interdisciplinary approach are needed to successfully achieve targeted goals.
The Chimpanzee Conservation Centre (CCC) is a member of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) that aims to promote the welfare and conservation of primates in African countries. It unites sanctuaries together to train professionals at the facilities about animal management, veterinary care, and education. PASA accepts donations at its website to continue its primate care and conservation efforts.
Humle, T., Colin, C., Laurans, M., & Raballand, E. (2010). Group release of sanctuary chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in the Haut Niger National Park, Guinea, West Africa: Ranging patterns and lessons so far. International Journal of Primatology. doi: 10.1007/s10764-010-9482-7
The study of conservation biology, and its oft-times competitor – urbanization, is increasingly relevant to the study of primatology. As a species, long-tailed macaques demonstrate a number of conflicts and potential implications of the urbanization occurring in primate-habitat countries. The long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) is the third-most common primate in the world with an extensive range across Southeast Asia covering Timor and the Philippines to the Southeast of Bangladesh (Richard, Goldstein, & Dewar, 1989). Although they are common relative to other primate species and listed as least concern by the IUCN, scientists recognize that their range and population status is declining due to habitat loss and degradation and exportation for the biomedical industry (Eudey, 2008). Whole groups are cultivated in Cambodia for trapping and sale for pharmaceutical testing based on demand from China and the United States while other anthropogenic factors, such as shipbuilding and shrimp farming negatively impact populations in Bangladesh (Eudey, 2008). They have also been introduced to areas outside their native range, including to the island of Mauritius and to China for use in medicine and consumption (Eudey, 2008; Richard, Goldstein, & Dewar, 1989).
While macaques are able to utilize a variety of human habitats, Malaivijitnond and Hamada (2008) suggest that anthropogenic land-use change has forced these animals to coexist in human-dominated landscapes. Long-tailed macaques are naturally found in low elevation habitats, including, seashores, swamp and mangrove forests, and river banks (Eudey, 2008). Studies have found, however, that long-tailed macaques prefer secondary, disturbed forests to the primary forests that most other primate species prefer (Richard, Goldstein, & Dewar, 1989). Macaques are commonly seen and encouraged in monkey parks, temples, monasteries, city and forest parks, and restaurants, often with individuals released as pets incorporated into the urban troops (Malaivijitnond & Hamada, 2008). This study based in Thailand found that groups averaged two-hundred monkeys per location with five locations containing upwards of one thousand individuals in a single group, including numerous subspecies and hybridized animals. These groups are locally overcrowded, which exacerbates human-wildlife conflict, especially in dry seasons and limited food supply (Malaivijitnond & Hamada, 2008). An extreme example of such conflict possible in an urban environment occurred in Malaysia where a suspected long-tailed macaque approached a house, potentially attracted by the female pet monkey, and grabbed a baby that it later dropped to the ground when it became alarmed. The child did not survive the incident and the monkey was found and shot (“Monkey snatches,” 2010).
Aggressive encounters with macaques are common in urban areas and some countries hire guards in public places to chase the animals away (Richard, Goldstein, & Dewar, 1989). Unintentionally, humans contribute to the problem by leaving garbage for them to raid (Eudey, 2008). In many cases, humans actively promote their presence for spiritual and entertainment purposes by provisioning food for the macaques, including banana, papaya, watermelon, mango, rambutan, pineapple, and coconut (Malaivijitnond & Hamada, 2008). These authors noted that local villagers in Thailand will hold “feeding parties” for the macaques and stop their cars to allow troops to cross roads, yet need to protect their buildings and houses with metal and protective guarding from the damage caused by macaques. There is also the potential for zoonotic disease transmission, including the potentially fatal herpes B simplex virus, from macaques to people. Long-tailed macaques will also commonly raid human crops, including rubber fruits, rice shoots, corn, and beans, causing some to label them as pest or “weed” species (Richard, Goldstein, & Dewar, 1989). The monkeys have been seen raiding palm oil plantations in Borneo, as well (personal observation).
Long-tailed macaques exist in the absence of humans on forest edges with suitable access to fruits and crustaceans; however, the urban environment facilitates their feeding and reproduction potential by increasing group sizes and decreasing their need to forage and seek wild habitat. Humans both promote macaque populations through provisioning and protection in some habitats and hinder through habitat fragmentation, exportation for research, human consumption, and the pet-trade.
Eudey, A. A. (2008). “The crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis): Widespread and rapidly declining.” Primate Conservation, 23, 129-132.
Malaivijitnond, S., & Hamada, Y. (2008). Current situation and status of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) in Thailand. The Natural History Journal of Chulalongkorn University, 8(2), 185-204.
“Monkey snatches, kills baby in Malaysia.” October 7, 2010. My Fox DC. Retrieved from www.myfoxdc.com.
Richard, A. F., Goldstein, S. J., & Dewar, R. E. (1989). “Weed macaques: The evolutionary implications of macaque feeding ecology.” International Journal of Primatology, 10(6), 569-594.
The orangutan genome has been sequenced and published in today’s Nature. The paper, “Comparative and demographic analysis of orang-utan genomes,” is open access for you to read for yourself. I’ll be highlighting some of the high points in this post. Devin Locke, a structural geneticist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, headed the sequencing of six Sumatran and five Bornean orangutans. As you may know Pongo abelii, or the Sumatran orangutan, is a separate species from Bornean orangutans — Pongo pygmaeus.
One remarkable finding of the study is the estimated divergence between the Sumatran and Bornean species. The team calculated the two species diverged 400,000 years ago. We know that land bridge between Indonesia’s Sumatra and Borneo split at least 21,000 years ago but until now we’ve never known at what time the two speciated.
Compared to the two other great apes whose genomes have been sequenced, humans and chimps, the orangutan genome has changed much less. We’re still waiting on the gorilla genome to be finished. Oangutans originated some 12 million to 16 million years ago. Theoretically, orangutans have had more time to accumulate genetic variation compared to humans and chimpanzees, which split into their own lineages 5 million to 6 million years ago. One would expect at least twice as much variation in the orangutan genome. However, in the study, a comparison of the three genomes shows that humans and chimpanzees have lost or gained new genes at twice the rate of orangutans.
The paper explains that orangutan genomes have much fewer active retrotransposons than human and chimp genomes. Retrotransposons, or Alu elements, are essentially jumping genes, that replicate, and amplify then insert into different parts of the genome. The initial 2001 draft of the human genome reported that around 42% of the human genome is made up of retrotransposons. The authors of the orangutan paper illustrate that the human genome has ~5,000 Alu elements, whereas the orangutan genome has 250. This is significantly different. The authors write,
“Reduced Alu retroposition potentially limited the effect of a wide variety of repeat-driven mutational mechanisms in the orang-utan lineage that played a major role in restructuring other primate genomes.”
Personally, and this is my thinking here nothing the authors say — a common source of many human retrotransposons are to prehistoric viruses that integrated into our ancestral DNA. Viruses are communicable. Orangutans are the most solitary Great apes. I suspect they would have much less exposure to viruses because of their social structure, and thus much less chance of insertion of retrotransposon. Again, this is a hypothesis of mine, and I could be very wrong to think this.
One last finding, I want to bring up was published in another paper released by the same team, but in the journal Genome Research. In the paper, “Incomplete lineage sorting patterns among human, chimpanzee and orangutan suggest recent orangutan speciation and widespread selection,” coauthors of the previous study write that there are many similarities to the human and orangutan genome, much more similar than human to chimp, in fact. They suspect that could be because humans split from a common ancestor with chimps, of which both species had the same ancestral orangutan DNA. What remains curious is that humans and chimpanzees have evolved separately for millions of years. In the process, chimps for mysterious reasons lost some orangutan DNA that humans retained.
As often in sciences, many more questions arise from studies like these but I am excited that the age of genomics is shedding more light on our fellow primates!
- Locke, D., Hillier, L., Warren, W., Worley, K., Nazareth, L., Muzny, D., Yang, S., Wang, Z., Chinwalla, A., Minx, P., Mitreva, M., Cook, L., Delehaunty, K., Fronick, C., Schmidt, H., Fulton, L., Fulton, R., Nelson, J., Magrini, V., Pohl, C., Graves, T., Markovic, C., Cree, A., Dinh, H., Hume, J., Kovar, C., Fowler, G., Lunter, G., Meader, S., Heger, A., Ponting, C., Marques-Bonet, T., Alkan, C., Chen, L., Cheng, Z., Kidd, J., Eichler, E., White, S., Searle, S., Vilella, A., Chen, Y., Flicek, P., Ma, J., Raney, B., Suh, B., Burhans, R., Herrero, J., Haussler, D., Faria, R., Fernando, O., Darré, F., Farré, D., Gazave, E., Oliva, M., Navarro, A., Roberto, R., Capozzi, O., Archidiacono, N., Valle, G., Purgato, S., Rocchi, M., Konkel, M., Walker, J., Ullmer, B., Batzer, M., Smit, A., Hubley, R., Casola, C., Schrider, D., Hahn, M., Quesada, V., Puente, X., Ordoñez, G., López-Otín, C., Vinar, T., Brejova, B., Ratan, A., Harris, R., Miller, W., Kosiol, C., Lawson, H., Taliwal, V., Martins, A., Siepel, A., RoyChoudhury, A., Ma, X., Degenhardt, J., Bustamante, C., Gutenkunst, R., Mailund, T., Dutheil, J., Hobolth, A., Schierup, M., Ryder, O., Yoshinaga, Y., de Jong, P., Weinstock, G., Rogers, J., Mardis, E., Gibbs, R., & Wilson, R. (2011). Comparative and demographic analysis of orang-utan genomes Nature, 469 (7331), 529-533 DOI: 10.1038/nature09687
- Hobolth, A., Dutheil, J., Hawks, J., Schierup, M., & Mailund, T. (2011). Incomplete lineage sorting patterns among human, chimpanzee and orangutan suggest recent orangutan speciation and widespread selection Genome Research DOI: 10.1101/gr.114751.110
This image puts a whole new perspective to the Nintendo classic game, Donkey Kong. At the San Fransisco Zoo, a boy dropped his Nintendo DS into the gorilla enclosure. The following happened. I’m particularly loving the little one’s expression and body language.
From Spicuzza Photo Today blog by way of Gamesradar and The Escapist
By way of Afarensis is news of a new Middle Miocene hominoid species found from the Abocador de Can Mata site in Spain. It is classified as a great ape with many afropithecid and several kenyapithecine features which I’ll give an overview of in a bit. Furthermore, the specimen, IPS43000, is 11.9 million years old, dated via magnetostratigraphic series and associated fauna from the strata it was recovered in.
The authors have published the paper in the journal PNAS under the title, “A unique Middle Miocene European hominoid and the origins of the great ape and human clade.”
What’s unique about this hominoid, aptly named Lluc or enlightenment in Latin, is that it has a very modern face… In other words it’s got a reduced facial prognathism. The specimen includes a fragmented cranium that with most of the face preserved and the associated mandible. While the muzzle of Lluc is so reduced that only find comparable values within the genus Homo, Lluc’s got an array of primitive features, such as super thick dental enamel and teeth with bulbar cusps. The mandible is also very robust. All of which are characteristics of afropithecids — primitive hominoids from the African Middle Miocene.
But other more derived features, like the forward positioning of the zygomatic bone and a bold mandibular torus along with a a reduction in the maxillary sinus, are shared only with the kenyapithecines. Kenyapithecines are a group of apes that ever dispersed outside the African continent and colonized the Mediterranean region, by about 15 million years ago, and are collectively grouped in the genera Kenyapithecus and Griphopithecus.
Ultimately, you can see how this specimen (IPS43000), Anoiapithecus brevirostris, has a combined a set of features that until now had never been found from the fossil record. The array of features allows us enables to identify two possibilities to be the ancestral form to our family (Kenyapithecus and Griphopithecus). The authors take a leap of faith here arguing that when one takes into account that these two genera cannot be considered members of the family Hominidae yet, because they lack its basic diagnostic features, they find it obvious that the origin of our family is a phenomenon that took place on the Mediterranean region during the time span comprised between their arrival from Africa by about 15 Ma, and about 13 Ma, when we began to find in els Hostalets the first members of our family.
- Moya-Sola, S., Alba, D., Almecija, S., Casanovas-Vilar, I., Kohler, M., De Esteban-Trivigno, S., Robles, J., Galindo, J., & Fortuny, J. (2009). A unique Middle Miocene European hominoid and the origins of the great ape and human clade Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0811730106
Plasmodium falciparum is the protozoan parasite that causes malaria in humans and ultimately the death of 2-3 million people a year. If you didn’t know, malaria is one of the most common infectious diseases and an enormous public health problem. Only one other malaria causing protozoan, a sister species of the P. falciparum parasite, P. reichenowi, was known to cause malaria but infects only chimpanzees. That was until researchers based in Gabon and France began sampling pet chimpanzees.
The team collected blood from 19 wild-borne animals kept as pets by villagers in Gabon, 17 of them being chimps. They found out that infected by a Plasmodium parasite, but sequencing of the parasite’s whole mitochondrial genome showed that it wasn’t P. falciparum nor P. reichenowi. Rather, it was a new species more closely related to P. falciparum. They classified the new species as P. gaboni.
They have published their findings in the open access journal PLoS Genetics, under the title, “A New Malaria Agent in African Hominids.” You maybe asking why this is relevant to primatology? Many are against studies that use primates like chimpanzees because of ethical reasons. In situations like this, chimpanzees already infected with the parasite are useful to sample and study to shed light on the genomic adaptations of P. falciparum to humans and thus help in the discovery of new potential drug targets.
- Ollomo, B., Durand, P., Prugnolle, F., Douzery, E., Arnathau, C., Nkoghe, D., Leroy, E., & Renaud, F. (2009). A New Malaria Agent in African Hominids PLoS Pathogens, 5 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000446
New volume is the first to offer a site-by-site comparison of data recording similarities, differences in orangutan populations
Des Moines, Iowa – January 29, 2009 – Great Ape Trust of Iowa scientist Dr. Serge Wich and three other internationally respected orangutan experts have edited a book set for release in the United States next month that, for the first time, compares data collected at every known orangutan research site and examines the information to discern differences and similarities among orangutan species, subspecies and populations.
Scientists are aware of significant variation in the behavior, morphology and life histories of orangutans, found only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, but the comparative approach in Orangutans: Geographic Variation in Behavioral Ecology and Conservation provides a theoretical framework to explain them, according to Wich and his co-editors. The data analyzed in the book, collected for Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) and their subspecies, provide a foundation for conservation action plans to save the critically endangered wild orangutans from extinction, and also emphasizes the effects of human settlement on orangutans and their habitat.
Wich and his esteemed co-editors – Dr. S. Suci Utami Atmoko, a biology research associate and lecturer at Universitas Nasional in Jakarta, Indonesia, and a member the IUCN-SSC Primate Specialist Group; Tatang Mitra Setia, who has studied Indonesian primates since 1979 at the Ketambe Research Center and is the dean of the biology faculty at Universitas Nasional; and Dr. Carel P. van Schaik, a Dutch primatologist who is a professor and director of the Anthropological Institute and Museum at the University of Zürich, Switzerland – all have extensive backgrounds tracking and studying wild orangutans. All also are widely respected for their own scientific publications.
For this book, they brought together more than 70 of the world’s leading orangutan experts to rigorously synthesize and compare the data, quantify the similarities and differences, and seek to explain them.
“Instead of just getting really good people with data from one population, we sought data from many scientists,” Wich said. “This gives us the advantage of looking at differences site by site.”
The comparison gives scientists a better understanding of how such ecological factors as fruit availability in the forest, for example, affects various orangutan populations. “By taking a look at differences in ecology, it’s easier to understand variation,” Wich said. “That’s why looking at one taxon is a very useful approach.”
Having such data available in one source “makes us think differently about conservation issues,” he continued. “If all orangutans were all the same, maybe saving a population here and a population there is enough to conserve the species, but if they’re different, conservation measures should reflect that. This site-by-site collection of data makes it much more strategic for us to consider all of these differences. What we are trying to do is not only preserve numbers, but also take geographic variation into account.”
The book points out not only differences between Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, but also their subspecies. There are three known Bornean orangutan subspecies – Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus, Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii and Pongo pygmaeus morio – and no known subspecies of Sumatran orangutans.
Great Ape Trust’s Dr. Rob Shumaker, one of the scientists invited to contribute chapters to the volume, said the book is “extraordinarily important,” in part because it fills a void in both the quality and quantity of comparative data available on orangutans. “The comparative literature that exists on orangutans is sparse when compared to what we know about chimpanzees, for example,” said Shumaker, who also pointed to a “very notable and unusual level of collaboration among scientists who worked together to create chapters.”
“It’s rare to achieve this level of collaboration and cooperation among field researchers,” he said. “It’s very difficult to find that when looking through literature on other species and other types of great ape.”
Shumaker said that collectively, scientists contributing chapters to the book paint a clearer picture of the flexibility and range of orangutan behavior in the wild and provides important insight to researchers working with captive orangutan populations. Though he has studied the mental abilities of orangutans for more than 20 years, Shumaker said the information presented in the book “revolutionizes my perspective and thinking into the level of variation we might expect in orangutans in captivity.”
Another contributing author, Dr. Anne Russon, said the book is noteworthy not only because it systematically attempts to consider orangutan biology and conservation across the whole of the orangutan’s rage, but also because of the sweeping scope of the research presented.
“It is simply vast,” said Russon, a professor of psychology at Glendon College, York University, Toronto, who since 1989 has studied intelligence and learning in ex-captive Bornean orangutans rehabilitated and released to free forest life.
“It required the work of a huge number of scientists and conservationists, with a very wide range of expertise and covering a time span of more than 30 years, to develop this kind of view of orangutans,” she said. “This effort identified similarities – and perhaps more important, differences – among orangutans that were either unknown or at best only hinted at in the past.”
Though some of the data reported in the book’s chapters remain suggestive because they were not collected to today’s methodological standards, “that points the way forward, in the sense of indicating what aspects of orangutan biology now need attention,” Russon said.
- Great Ape Trust of Iowa is a scientific research facility in southeast Des Moines dedicated to understanding the origins and future of culture, language, tools and intelligence. When completed, Great Ape Trust will be the largest great ape facility in North America and one of the first worldwide to include all four types of great ape – bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans – for noninvasive interdisciplinary studies of their cognitive and communicative capabilities.
Great Ape Trust is dedicated to providing sanctuary and an honorable life for great apes, studying the intelligence of great apes, advancing conservation of great apes and providing unique educational experiences about great apes. Great Ape Trust of Iowa is a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization and is certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).