Abstract # 3129 Event # 115:

Scheduled for Sunday, September 18, 2011 10:00 AM-10:15 AM: Session 16 (Salon F (Sixth Floor)) Oral Presentation


WHY DO PRIMATES IN DISTURBED HABITATS SHOW INCREASED PARASITISM? A NEW MECHANISM PROPOSED

A. Behie and M. Pavelka
Department of Anthropology, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
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Primates living in disturbed forests often show increased levels of parasitism, generally ascribed to decreased food availability and resulting reductions in immune function. We investigated the link between indirectly transmitted parasites and disturbance by examining parasitism, food selection and nutritional quality of the food supply of black howlers (Alouatta pigra) living in a hurricane disturbed forest in Belize. Over 18 months, plant samples, feeding data and fecal samples from 12 individuals in 4 social groups were collected and analyzed. Results showed that in the post-hurricane, fruit depleted environment the monkeys were selectively feeding on mature leaves despite an abundance of young leaves, and in particular they were feeding on mature leaves of the pioneer species Cecropia (trumpet tree). Further, there was a significant positive relationship between percentage of Cecropia ingested and infection with the indirectly transmitted fluke Controrchis spp. (pearson correlation r = 0.518; p = 0.004). Mature Cecropia leaves proved to be relatively high in protein and sugar, which may explain their prevalence in the diet. The selection of these abundant and high quality leaves, however, brings with it the consumption of ants as pioneer species typically rely on ants rather than chemical defense for protection. We suggest that the selection of high quality leaves from myrmecophytic pioneer species in disturbed forests may act as the mechanism by which parasitism is consistently linked to disturbance.