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Altitude and human disturbance are associated with helminth diversity in an endangered primate, Procolobus gordonorum

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Mundry,  Roger
Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;
Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Barelli, C., Gonzalez-Astudillo, V., Mundry, R., Rovero, F., Hauffe, H. C., & Gillespie, T. R. (2019). Altitude and human disturbance are associated with helminth diversity in an endangered primate, Procolobus gordonorum. PLoS One, 14(12): e0225142. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0225142.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-4305-9
Abstract
Gastrointestinal parasites colonizing the mammalian gut influence the host immune system and health. Parasite infections, mainly helminths, have been studied intensively in both humans and non-human animals, but relatively rarely within a conservation framework. The Udzungwa red colobus monkey (Procolobus gordonorum) is an endangered endemic primate species living in the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania, a global biodiversity hotspot. Since this endemic primate species is highly sensitive to human disturbance, here we investigate whether habitat type (driven by natural and human-induced factors) is associated with helminth diversity. Using standard flotation and sedimentation techniques, we analyzed 251 fecal samples belonging to 25 social groups from four different forest blocks within the Udzungwa Mountains. Five parasitic helminth taxa were recovered from Udzungwa red colobus, including Trichuris sp., Strongyloides fulleborni, S. stercoralis, a strongylid nematode and Colobenterobius sp. We used Generalized Linear Mixed Models to explore the contribution of habitat type, altitude and fecal glucocorticoid levels (as biomarkers of stress) in predicting gut parasite variation. Although some parasites (e.g., Trichuris sp.) infected more than 50 of individuals, compared to others (e.g., Colobenterobius sp.) that infected less than 3, both parasite richness and prevalence did not differ significantly across forests, even when controlling for seasonality. Stress hormone levels also did not predict variation in parasite richness, while altitude could explain it resulting in lower richness at lower altitudes. Because human activities causing disturbance are concentrated mainly at lower altitudes, we suggest that protection of primate forest habitat preserves natural diversity at both macro- and microscales, and that the importance of the latter should not be underestimated.