KTVZ.com: Phillips' Bioko Research Provides Look into Climatic Future
March 2, 2012
KTVZ.com reported on a study co-authored by Dr. Naomi Phillips, Assistant Professor of Biology, on a rare and endangered monkey in an African equatorial rainforest, Feb. 29. "Our Arcadia undergraduates were instrumental in this work," says Phillips of the article. "This was very exciting and great timing with the Research Expo."
The study conducted by Philips and 10 fellow researchers representing institutions in the United States, United Kingdom, Nigeria and Germany, is providing a look into our climatic future through wild drills’ (Mandrillus leucophaeus) DNA.
[Researchers] gathered feces of drills in the Cross-Sanaga-Bioko Coastal forests that stretch across portions of Nigeria, Bioko Island (Equatorial Guinea) and Cameroon. The extracted DNA provided the first genetic information from this species, which is found only in that region.
The species also is struggling for survival because of poaching and by habitat loss due to logging and cultivation activities. Drill meat also is a valued food; hunters often shoot them en masse. Protecting drill populations was the top priority of the African Primate Conservation Action Plan developed in 1996 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Despite the designation, Ting said, "hunting continues and is the much more immediate danger facing the drill."
The base pairs examined came from 54 samples of DNA. Base pairs are made up of adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine. While DNA is the blueprint for life, examining the sequences of these chemicals also provides a roadmap into any organism's past. "Looking at its modern genetic diversity, you can infer changes in past population size," Ting said.
In the mid-Holocene, temperatures across equatorial Africa were hotter and dryer, with a reduction of forest cover that the drill need for survival. The ecology of the region also includes multiple other species found only there. The research, Ting said, is among emerging work focusing on past climate conditions in equatorial areas. Many studies have been done on conditions in both temperate and arctic regions.
The findings carry conservation implications, Ting said. "We could see many of these equatorial forests becoming very arid. Forest will be lost as vegetation changes to adapt to dryer conditions. Our findings show that this type of animal, which already is very much endangered because of hunters, would not be able to deal with the level of climate changes that could be coming."
What is needed to protect this little understood species are measures that reduce the destruction of the forest habitat and step up protection against poachers, said Ting, who is co-director of the UO's molecular anthropology group and a member of the UO Institute of Ecology and Evolution and UO Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences.