PhD Student, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology
The lion-tailed macaque (LTM) is one of the most endangered primates. It is estimated that only about 4000 individuals survive in the moist evergreen forests of Western Ghats mountain range in southern India. The major threat to its survival is habitat fragmentation. Previous studies in highly fragmented forests of Anamalai Hills indicated a reduction in the population growth rate and the survival of immature individuals. I hypothesized that a loss of genetic diversity caused by reduced gene flow between fragments may be responsible for these demographic changes. I also hypothesized that forest fragmentation and subsequent isolation increases physiological stress, frequency of agonistic behaviour and the prevalence of gastro- intestinal parasites in lion-tailed macaques. Nucleotide sequence data, prevalence of gastrointestinal parasites, behavioural observations and hormone quantifications have given leads as to the magnitude of human impact on the species' biology and has given us some much needed clues on the best way to mitigate these challenges in its conservation.
Abstract: With accelerated deforestation and fragmentation through the tropics, assessing the impact that landscape spatial changes may have on biodiversity is paramount, as this information is required to design and implement effective management and conservation plans. Primates are expected to be particularly dependent on the landscape context; yet, our understanding on this topic is limited as the majority of primate studies are at the local scale, meaning that landscape-scale inferences are not possible. To encourage primatologists to assess the impact of landscape changes on primates, and help future studies on the topic, we describe the meaning of a "landscape perspective" and evaluate important assumptions of using such a methodological approach. We also summarize a number of important, but unanswered, questions that can be addressed using a landscape-scale study design. For example, it is still unclear if habitat loss has larger consistent negative effects on primates than habitat fragmentation per se. Furthermore, interaction effects between habitat area and other landscape effects (e.g., fragmentation) are unknown for primates. We also do not know if primates are affected by synergistic interactions among factors at the landscape scale (e.g., habitat loss and diseases, habitat loss and climate change, hunting, and land-use change), or whether landscape complexity (or landscape heterogeneity) is important for primate conservation. Testing for patterns in the responses of primates to landscape change will facilitate the development of new guidelines and principles for improving primate conservation.
Pub.: 10 Apr '14, Pinned: 19 Sep '17
Abstract: Previous theoretical studies suggest that a species' landscape should influence the evolution of its dispersal characteristics, because landscape structure affects the costs and benefits of dispersal. However, these studies have not considered the evolution of boundary crossing, that is, the tendency of animals to cross from habitat to nonhabitat ("matrix"). It is important to understand this dispersal behavior, because of its effects on the probability of population persistence. Boundary-crossing behavior drives the rate of interaction with matrix, and thus, it influences the rate of movement among populations and the risk of dispersal mortality. We used an individual-based, spatially explicit model to simulate the evolution of boundary crossing in response to landscape structure. Our simulations predict higher evolved probabilities of boundary crossing in landscapes with more habitat, less fragmented habitat, higher-quality matrix, and more frequent disturbances (i.e., fewer generations between local population extinction events). Unexpectedly, our simulations also suggest that matrix quality and disturbance frequency have much stronger effects on the evolution of boundary crossing than either habitat amount or habitat fragmentation. Our results suggest that boundary-crossing responses are most affected by the costs of dispersal through matrix and the benefits of escaping local extinction events. Evolution of optimal behavior at habitat boundaries in response to the landscape may have implications for species in human-altered landscapes, because this behavior may become suboptimal if the landscape changes faster than the species' evolutionary response to that change. Understanding how matrix quality and habitat disturbance drive evolution of behavior at boundaries, and how this in turn influences the extinction risk of species in human-altered landscapes should help us identify species of conservation concern and target them for management.
Pub.: 27 Jan '16, Pinned: 19 Sep '17
Abstract: Understanding changes in the host-parasite relationship due to habitat fragmentation is necessary for better management and conservation of endangered species in fragmented landscapes. Pathogens and parasites can pose severe threat to species in restricted environments such as forest fragments where there is increased contact of wildlife with human and livestock populations. Environmental stress and reduced nutritional level in forest fragments can influence parasite infection and intensity on the native species. In this study, we examine the impact of habitat fragmentation on the prevalence of gastrointestinal parasites in lion-tailed macaques in a fragmented rainforest in Western Ghats.The prevalence of different gastrointestinal parasites was estimated from 91 fecal samples collected from 9 lion-tailed macaque groups in nine forest fragments. The parasites were identified up to genus level on the basis of the morphology and coloration of the egg, larva and cyst. The covariates included forest fragment area, group size and the presence/absence of human settlements and livestock in proximity. We used a linear regression model to identify the covariates that significantly influenced the prevalence of different parasite taxa.Nine gastrointestinal parasite taxa were detected in lion-tailed macaque groups. The groups near human settlements had greater prevalence and number of taxa, and these variables also had significant positive correlations with group size. We found that these parameters were also greater in groups near human settlements after controlling for group size. Livestock were present in all five fragments that had human settlements in proximity.The present study suggests that high prevalence and species richness of gastrointestinal parasites in lion-tailed macaque groups are directly related to habitat fragmentation, high anthropogenic activities and high host density. The parasite load partially explains the reason for the decline in immature survival and birth rate in small and isolated rainforest fragments in Anamalai Hills.
Pub.: 30 May '13, Pinned: 19 Sep '17
Abstract: Genetic isolation of populations is a potent force that helps shape the course of evolution. However, small populations in isolation, especially in fragmented landscapes, are known to lose genetic variability, suffer from inbreeding depression and become genetically differentiated among themselves. In this study, we assessed the genetic diversity of lion-tailed macaques (Macaca silenus) inhabiting the fragmented landscape of Anamalai hills and examined the genetic structure of the species across its distributional range in the Western Ghats. We sequenced around 900 bases of DNA covering two mitochondrial regions-hypervariable region-I and partial mitochondrial cytochrome b-from individuals sampled both from wild and captivity, constructed and dated phylogenetic trees. We found that the lion-tailed macaque troops in the isolated forest patches in Anamalai hills have depleted mitochondrial DNA diversity compared to troops in larger and continuous forests. Our results also revealed an ancient divergence in the lion-tailed macaque into two distinct populations across the Palghat gap, dating to 2.11 million years ago. In light of our findings, we make a few suggestions on the management of wild and captive populations.
Pub.: 13 Nov '15, Pinned: 19 Sep '17
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