The study was published in San Francisco-based scientific journal

A research article published in Plos One, the San Francisco based open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal, says gastrointestinal parasitic load was higher in lion-tailed macaques (Macaca slienus) living near human settlements.

The article, published on Wednesday, is based on a study funded by the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology and carried out by Shaik Hussain, Muthuvarmadam Subramanian Ram, Sisinthy Shivaji, and Govindhaswamy Umapathy of the Hyderabad-based Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species attached to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Ajith Kumar from the Centre for Wildlife Studies attached to the Bangalore-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

The study revealed nine gastrointestinal parasites in lion-tailed macaques and six of them were found only in lion-tailed macaques living near human settlements. “High prevalence and species richness of gastrointestinal parasites are directly linked to habitat fragmentation, high anthropogenic activities (caused due to human activity), and high host density,” the study says.

Understanding the changes in the host-parasite relationship due to habitat fragmentation is necessary for better management and conservation of endangered species in fragmented landscapes. Pathogens and parasites can pose severe threats to species in restricted environments such as forest fragments where there is increased contact of wildlife with human and livestock populations, the study says.

The research brings to light that the parasite load contracted due to human presence found in lion-tailed macaques partially explains the reason for the decline in immature survival and birth rate of the species in small and isolated rainforest areas. The study was carried out in the Anamalai Hills, natural habitat of the lion-tailed macaques in the Western Ghats. Fragments such as Puthuthottam, Andiparai, Korangumudi, and Varattuparai were under serious ‘anthropogenic pressure,’ the study says.

The lion-tailed macaque, one of the most endangered primate species in the world, is endemic to the rainforest of the Western Ghats. The lion-tailed macaque is a model species to examine changes in parasitic profiles due to habitat fragmentation. Its habitat is among the most fragmented and densely populated biodiversity hotspots. Changes in the gastrointestinal parasitic profile of animals due to habitat fragmentation can adversely impact the survival of remnant populations of endangered species, the study says. Increased host density in fragments can cause social as well as nutritional stress among the hosts, making them even more susceptible to parasitic infection.

Lion-tailed macaques in forest fragments also spend more time on the ground compared to those in contiguous forests and feed on far fewer plant species.

The loss of canopy contiguity in forest fragments can further exacerbate parasitic infection for arboreal mammals, as they are forced to spend more time on the ground.

The lion-tailed macaque is a victim of canopy loss caused by human interference, the study adds.

More In: Kerala | National