Canada Research Chair in Primate Ecology Visits Trent

Photo:Olivier LejadeDr. Colin Chapman from McGill University will be at Trent University on Friday, October 19 as part of the Life Sciences Seminar Series, leading a seminar on primate conservation.

A Professor in the Department of Anthropology and with the McGill School of Environment, Dr. Chapman is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Killam Research Fellow, and the Canada Research Chair in Primate Ecology and Conservation.

The seminar promises to be interesting, as concerns about the conservation of primates, especially gorillas and chimpanzees, have received worldwide media attention over the last few decades. The stories told of troubled primate populations usually point to habitat loss and degradation, as well as to poaching and hunting as the root causes of the problems.

But primate conservation isn’t so cut and dry. In 2011, an article written by JS Lwanga and colleagues, published in the American Journal of Primatology, made headlines when it provided evidence that the chimps in Kibale National Park in Uganda are hunting the native red colobus monkeys to the brink of extirpation from the Ngogo area of the park.

What makes the decline of red colobus monkeys significant is that humans are not directly involved. Evidence instead suggests that a predator-prey imbalance is the cause. It is also significant from a conservation standpoint because the populations live in a protected area that has been relatively free from human disturbance—they have been provided with prime habitat and freedom from hunters, and yet several monkey species are experiencing a decline in numbers.

Dr. Chapman has taken part in long-term studies at Kibale National Park for over two decades. His work in Uganda includes not only research regarding chimpanzees, red colobus monkeys and other primates, but also on the local plant communities, wetlands, areas of forest management and parasites. Much of his research can be used by park managers to better understand and provide for the park’s residents.

Kibale National Park is home to several primate species that include monkeys, baboons and chimpanzees. The resident chimps may perhaps be the most famous inhabitants of the park, inspiring many tourists to visit and observe chimpanzees in the wild. The chimps are even featured in one of Sir David Attenborough’s most infamous BBC nature segments, which follows a group of Kibale chimps hunting and eating a young red colobus monkey.

Whether or not to interfere with the plummeting red colobus monkey population puts park managers in a difficult situation, as both chimpanzees and red colobus monkeys are endangered species.

Obviously, primate conservation is not easy. It takes more than just creating a park or wildlife reserve, it requires long-term studies and consideration of many different ecosystem factors, as well as inter- and intra-species dynamics. And soon it will require consideration of climate change.

While here in Canada we hear that areas in northern latitudes will be among the most affected by climate change, changes are already detectable in Kibale. In a 2010 article published in the journal Ecological Applications, Dr. Chapman and his colleagues report that the average maximum monthly temperatures have increased by over four degrees Celsius in just over 40 years, the rainy season now begins sooner and the annual rainfall has increased about 300 mm since the start of the 20th century. These are surprising changes when you consider that Kibale is only a stone’s throw from the equator. Climate change and how it affects tropical forests may soon dominate future primate conservation research.

Primate studies have contributed greatly to many fields, including behavioral ecology, medicine, evolution, anthropology and conservation biology. We can learn much from studying primates. Since Dr. Chapman has been involved in many years of research regarding primates and their environment, there is little doubt that we can learn from him. And while Canada is not home to tropical forests or primates, what Dr. Chapman has learned may provide insights into studying or conserving our own species.

The seminar, titled “Primate conservation: what does long‐term research tell us about conservation and non‐equilibrium dynamics?” will be held at the First People’s House of Learning, Gzowski College room 115 at 2pm on Friday October 19. All are welcome to attend.