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Monkeys more sensitive to habitat damage than thought

Monkeys in threatened forests are far more sensitive to fragmentation of their habitat than previously thought, the University of York, in the UK, said today.

“An analysis of monkeys living in Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountains suggests that the impact of external factors, such as human activity, on species numbers is felt in forests as large as 40 square kilometres [about 10,000 acres],” the university said in a news statement.

Researchers also found that the health of monkey populations is closely related to the type of habitat found between forest fragments, rather than the distance that separates them.

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Photo of Udzungwa red colobus monkey by Andrew Marshall/University of York

“The findings have broader implications for conservationists as the number of monkeys and the variety of species is a visible indicator of the underlying health of their habitat,” the university said.

The study of seven species distributed in an area covering 10,000 square kilometers (3,600 square miles) was conducted by Andrew Marshall, from the Environment Department at the University of York and director of conservation at Flamingo Land Theme Park and Zoo, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of York, the University of Copenhagen, the Trento Museum of Natural History (Italy) and the Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Centre (Tanzania). The findings were published in the American Journal of Primatology.

“This study suggests that while small forest fragments need protecting we should intervene at an earlier stage to protect larger forest areas that are under threat,” Marshall said.

“It also supports the case for working with local communities on practical steps that will help forest species. These could include reducing dependence on bush meat and encouraging the planting of habitat that can form corridors between forest fragments.”