Effects of anthropogenic stress on the presence of parasites in a threatened population of black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra)

Rodolfo Martínez-Mota, Gilberto Pozo-Montuy, Yadira M. Bonilla Sánchez, Thomas R. Gillespie


Habitat disturbance disrupts the ecological interactions of mammals, leading to negative consequences for biodiversity. In particular, it is suggested that parasite-host interactions are affected in tropical ecosystems, with parasite diversity reduced as environmental perturbations take place. In this study, we examined whether the disruption of tropical forests affects the presence of parasites in a population of endangered black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra) that inhabits a highly fragmented landscape in Balancán, Tabasco, Mexico. Our working hypothesis was that increased forest perturbation would negatively affect the incidence of parasitic infections (parasite presence and richness) in black howler monkeys. We conducted a parasitological study and collected stool samples from 65 adult individuals living in 30 forest fragments across a disturbance gradient. We recovered parasite eggs from stool samples using flotation and sedimentation techniques. We selected fragment size and distance from each forest fragment to the nearest village as measures of forest perturbation. We analyzed the effects of forest perturbation on parasite presence and richness using generalized linear models. Other driving factors such as seasonality, host density, and sex were also considered in the models. Gastrointestinal parasite infection was positively related to distance between forest fragments and the nearest human settlement (β = 0.55 ± SE 0.28, z = 2.0, P = 0.05). No effects of fragment size or any other variable considered in the model on the presence of parasite infection were observed. Parasite richness was not affected by any of the measures of forest perturbation, nor by any other variables considered in the analysis. Our findings suggest that an increase in forest perturbation may negatively affect the probability of parasite infection in black howler monkeys, as individuals living in close proximity to human settlements showed a lower presence of parasites. We proposed that the low parasite infection rates recorded in this monkey population reflect synergistic effects associated with both the alteration of the parasite-primate network, as well as the low resilience of parasites to thrive in a disrupted ecosystem.

Palabras clave

Habitat perturbation; Mexico; parasites; primates; species loss; tropical forest.

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