Temporal dynamics of nutrition, parasitism, and stress in colobus monkeys: Implications for population regulation and conservation



The need to develop conservation plans calls for the ability to identify ecological factors that influence population density. Because stress is known to affect fecundity and mortality, increasing stress may provide a warning of potential population declines. We examined the effects of temporal variation in nutrition and parasitism on stress in endangered red colobus monkeys in Kibale National Park, Uganda. First, we tested the hypothesis that parasitism and nutrition would individually affect stress levels. We found that periods of poor-quality diet corresponded with an increase in cortisol. Similarly, increases in parasite infections were associated with increased cortisol. Next, we predicted that a poor-quality diet would facilitate increased parasite infections, and that together, they would lead to amplified stress. However, we found no support for such amplification, likely because the quality of the diet had little effect on parasite infections. Third, we tested whether individuals in a larger group were subject to food stress due to greater within-group competition, which would intensify nutritional stress and parasitism, and lead to reduced reproduction. Although we found no evidence to support a group size effect on parasites, cortisol levels in the large group tended to be higher than those in the small group, and the large group had fewer infants per female. The results suggest that parasitism and poor nutrition lead to increased stress which, because they are known to be associated with reduced fecundity and increased mortality, may lead to population declines. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.