March 1, 2012

Monkey DNA reveals past and future

a_drill-monkeylr.jpgGenetic studies of monkeys tell scientists about impacts of climate change

Rare wild drills (Mandrillus leucophaeus) recently studied by scientists from the UK, USA and Germany, have offered clear insights into both past and future climate changes and the probable impacts of this on this particular monkey.


Using genetic evidence found in drill monkey faeces,  scientists were able to study the genes passed down through the female lineages of this species.  They then compared this genetic evidence to studies of pollen and fossil records in the region where these monkeys live – basically the coastal rainforests of Nigeria, Bioko Island and Cameroon.  Results of this work suggest that around 3,000 to 5,000 years ago these drills suffered a devastating population collapse during a period of pre-history when this part of Africa was significantly dryer and hotter than it has been over recent centuries.

Professor Nelson Ting from the University of Oregon, and lead author of the study, says that while the immediate threat to these endangered monkeys comes from hunting, loss of habitat is also a serious issue due to logging and the spread of agriculture.  In terms of what the future holds, however, if climate change increases temperatures and droughts in this part of the world, the drills are likely to lose much more of their rainforest habitat.   Given the serious population collapse experienced by these monkeys in the last period with similar climatic conditions, this species could be in very serious trouble during coming decades.

According to Professor Ting, “we could see many of these equatorial forests becoming very arid. Forest will be lost as vegetation changes to adapt to dryer conditions. Our findings show that this type of animal, which already is very much endangered because of hunters, would not be able to deal with the level of climate changes that could be coming.”

Source: Science Daily


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