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 III:

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

Jess Reed and Warren Porter, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Xingcai Liang and Qikun Zhao, Kunming Institute of Zoology

Functional ecology is the combined study of the morphology, physiology, behavior, and ecology of an animal in its natural environment. The natural environment includes climate, topography, and vegetation. Vegetation includes both effects on local microclimates (e.g. shading) and effects on diet via nutrition. Climate, topography, and vegetation vary in time and space. The three of them and animal morphology (body size, fur properties) collectively affect the heat and mass balance of animals, which affects their nutritional requirements for survival, growth, and reproduction. Survival, growth, and reproduction determine population dynamics of a species locally. When survival, growth, and reproduction are calculated for multiple species constraints on community structure can be explored.

Nutritional ecology is a key part of functional ecology, because the food intake, representing mass and energy, less the mass and energy needed for maintenance (survival) is what is available for growth and reproduction, both essential for maintenance/presence of a species in a habitat.

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 Xu 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 4 Chinese Academy of Sciences Institutions in the region) and 4. An understanding of the functional and 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.

We will use field micro-meteorological measurements and a state-of-the-art computer based biophysical model to predict seasonal maintenance energy requirements of free-living monkeys. The endotherm model has already been shown to predict metabolic rates of mammals ranging in size from mice to elephants (Porter et al, 2000) in the laboratory. Recently it has also been shown to correctly calculate metabolic and water loss rates for free living Arabian oryx on the Arabian Peninsula. Doubly labeled water measurements on free ranging oryxes have verified its accuracy for field estimates of metabolism and water balance. (Similar successes have just been achieved for predicting metabolic rates of free ranging diving cormorants at two locations in Greenland (Porter and Gremillet, in manuscript). We may also be able to test the model using doubly labeled water methodology (requires capture/recapture) on free-living monkeys, and test predictions of 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? 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.

Animal energetics and activity time available each day as a function of habitat quality can be modeled on a landscape level (e.g., using GIS) based on the knowledge of temporal and spatial variation in climate, topography, vegetation, and animal properties listed above including its nutritional ecology (Porter et al., 2000; 2002). Climate data from weather stations in Yunnan province can be extrapolated to local test sites by correcting for elevation differences using empirical data from the site and the station taken at the same time. Climate data from stations can also be interpolated for landscape scale calculations by various currently available software such as ‘Mountain Climb’ or ‘ANUSPLIN’. All available and relevant programs will be evaluated for their accuracy using data from one station not included in the fit as a test station to compare the predicted temperatures from fitted data from the other stations. This test fit process will be repeated using a different station as the test data source against the fit from all other station data to again test goodness of fit. By repeating the process for each of the stations where data are available, we can determine the software that best estimates all locations. The climate data, together with digital elevation maps (DEMs) and vegetation maps can then be used to drive Porter’s state-of-the-art microclimate model. Output from the microclimate model drives the general integrated model of endotherm (warm blooded animal) heat and mass transfer and the associated respiratory and gut system models. This process is repeated for each quadrat on the landscape. The quadrat size is determined by the resolution of the DEM data. We can thus compute snub nosed monkey, yak, cattle, equines, goats, sheep energetics and time budgets on a landscape scale. These models can determine food and water requirements for survival, growth, and reproduction in any climate, topography, and vegetation structure and food composition if the environmental and animal properties described above are available. Therefore we propose to collect those environmental and animal properties for the species described above and test the calculations against measured values of food consumption in known environments and duration of daily time of activity.

Predictions of monkey behavior will be tested against observations of the snub-nosed monkey troupe that can be observed from distances as close as 20 m (Zhao research group). Once the computer models have been tested and verified against known data, we can do calculations for existing and potential new habitats to explore the consequences of altered land use and identify potential new reserves where the snub-nosed monkey does not currently live, but would be able to function successfully.

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