Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development in Southwest China

University of Wisconsin-Madison NSF IGERT China Program

Proposals developed at the Workshop on Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development in the Northwest of Yunnan, China

Kunming August 8-18, 2002

Proposal II

Nutritional Ecology of the Yunnan Snub-nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecusbieti)

Jess Reed and Bill Karasov, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Weizhi Ji and Qikun Zhao, Kunming Institute of Zoology

Nutritional ecology of herbivores is the study of animals and their food plants in natural, anthropogenic and agricultural plant communities. These studies include research on the effects of plant community structure on the feeding behavior of herbivores, the nutritional and chemical properties of plant species in the diet, and the digestive physiology and adaptation of the animal. Knowledge of nutritional ecology is essential to the management of plant communities for the conservation of rare and endemic mammalian herbivores and for the production of domestic livestock. In many ecosystems, the potential conflict between wild herbivores and domestic livestock in the use of plant communities is a critical aspect of both wildlife conservation and livestock production.

Therefore, scientific knowledge of nutritional ecology can assist resource managers in their efforts to conserve plant and animal biodiversity in regions where rapid agricultural expansion into natural plant communities and over-exploitation of natural resources has occurred. Research on the nutritional ecology of mammalian herbivores includes: population studies of the animal species; population studies of plant species in the animals diet and habitat; animal feeding behavior in relation to the structure of natural, anthropogenic and agricultural plant communities; chemical and in vitro characterization of nutrients and energy in food plants; the effects of secondary plant compounds on animal nutrition and health (such as alkaloids, cyanogenic glycosides, tannins, etc.); and, the utilization of nutrients and energy in plants for maintenance, growth and reproduction as well as other productive biological functions of interest (work, wool, milk, meat, eggs, etc.).

We have decided to focus our research on the Yunnan Snub-Nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecusbieti) for 4 reasons:

1. The monkey is a highly endangered species that lives in the Bai Ma Swai Shan mountains between the Mekong and Yangtze rivers in Northwest Yunnan and Southeastern Tibet,

2. The monkey is on the top list of mammals for protection by the Chinese government and several nature reserves have been demarcated in the mountain range,

3. The interaction between the agro-pastoral communities that surround the mountain range and the conservation of the monkey’s habitat provides a challenge to both the conservation of natural resources and the sustainable economic development of NW Yunnan (this interaction is ideally suited as a problem for the broader collaboration between the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institutions in the region) and

4. An understanding of the nutritional ecology of the monkeys and other important herbivores in the system will lead to better management that meets the needs of the monkeys and the people in the region.


The following questions and research ideas will guide our assessment of what is known and not known and to identify critical research needs for a long-term research program.

1. Diet: What is the diet of the monkey and how does diet vary by sex and age group and by season will be researched by diet analysis based on analysis of fecal fragments for seasonal variation, observational records for variation by sex/age group and possible use of stable isotope ratios.

2. Nutritional Value of Food Plants: What are the levels of soluble and structural polysaccharides, protein, lipids, elements in the main foods, to what extent can the monkeys extract these nutrients, and can the efficiency and rate of digestion of the monkeys be modeled and then predicted based on increased understanding of the kinetics of fore-gut fermentation? These questions will be studied by the detergent system of forage analysis, elemental analysis and in vitro rates of digestion of key food plants using anaerobic microorganisms in feces from captive or free-living monkeys. If possible, feeding studies with captives to study foregut fermentation and the use of naturally occurring inert markers and indigestible fiber fractions to estimate diet digestibility.

3. Nutritional Requirements: Are the nutrient requirements of this primate species notably different from what would be predicted based on studies in other primate species, to what extent are rates of nutrient gain on wild foods well matched to nutrient requirements, how does this vary by sex/age group and season and does disturbance by humans create a mismatch between requirements and rates of gain? These questions will be studied by comparing nutrient requirements of captives in Kunming, including comparative trials with Rhesus monkeys. The use of field micro-meteorological measurements and a biophysical model to predict seasonal maintenance energy requirements of free-living monkeys, possible use doubly labeled water methodology (requires capture/recapture) on free-living monkeys, and time-energy budgets, in conjunction with behavioral observations, to predict how disturbance by humans affects nutrient gains.

4. Nutritional Quality of Habitats and Plant Communities: What nutritional resources do the monkeys get from the different plant communities and can habitat quality be modeled on a landscape level (e.g., using GIS) based on the knowledge of nutritional ecology? These questions will be studied by quantitative and qualitative vegetation analysis, study of enclosures in disturbed and undisturbed plant communities, and development of a GIS based on vegetation analysis and knowledge of nutritional value of food plants.

5. Impact of Grazing Activities on Monkey Nutritional Ecology: Is there competition or complementarity between grazers and the monkeys, how does grazing activity and management alter the plant communities and how does that influence the monkeys, and can we improve the nutritional management of livestock (introducing forages, alter grazing management, nutritional supplements) to improve/protect the habitat for the monkeys and minimize the impact of grazing practices on the monkey? These questions will be studied by determining diet selection by grazers (yak, cattle, equines, goats, sheep), comparative and experimental studies on impacts of grazing on vegetative structure, link studies of the impact of grazing management to studies on vegetation ecology by quantitative and qualitative vegetation analysis and use of enclosures, testing introduction of alternative forages for livestock, and determining the production objectives of farmers in relation to nutrient requirements of livestock.

Back to 2002 Conference