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Keywords:

  • Coalescent theory;
  • conservation biology;
  • historical demography;
  • microsatellites;
  • red colobus

Abstract

Red colobus monkeys, due to their sensitivity to environmental change, are indicator species of the overall health of their tropical rainforest habitats. As a result of habitat loss and overhunting, they are among the most endangered primates in the world, with very few viable populations remaining. Traditionally, extant indicator species have been used to signify the conditions of their current habitats, but they have also been employed to track past environmental conditions by detecting previous population fluctuations. Kibale National Park (KNP) in Uganda harbors the only remaining unthreatened large population of red colobus. We used microsatellite DNA to evaluate the historical demography of these red colobus and, therefore, the long-term stability of their habitat. We find that the red colobus population throughout KNP has been stable for at least ~40,000 years. We interpret this result as evidence of long-term forest stability because a change in the available habitat or population movement would have elicited a corresponding change in population size. We conclude that the forest of what is now Kibale National Park may have served as a Late Pleistocene refuge for many East African species.