, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 513-528
Date: 22 May 2007

Population Declines of Colobus in Western Uganda and Conservation Value of Forest Fragments

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The processes of habitat loss and fragmentation are probably the most important threats to biodiversity. It is critical that we understand the conservation value of fragments, because they may represent opportunities to make important conservation gains, particularly for species whose ranges are not in a protected area. However, our ability to understand the value of fragments for primates is limited by the fact that researchers have conducted many studies in protected areas, which do not represent most fragments, and studies are typically short term. Here we determine the long-term survival probability of red (Procolobus pennantii) and black-and-white colobus (Colobus guereza) inhabiting forest fragments outside of Kibale National Park, Uganda. Local communities use the fragments primarily for subsistence agriculture and fuelwood. We surveyed primate populations 3 times over 8 yr, made a total inventory of all trees 2 times, contrasted behavior of groups inhabiting 1 fragment with groups in the continuous forest, and judged the conservation value of the fragments by quantifying patterns of forest use by local people. Of the 20 fragments surveyed, 16 supported resident populations of colobus in 1995, 2 were cleared in 2000, and an additional 2 fragments were cleared by 2003. In 1995 we counted 165 black-and-white colobus, whereas in 2000 and 2003, we counted 119 and 75 individuals, respectively. Seven fragments supported red colobus in 1995, 11 in 2000, and 9 in 2003. In 2000 we counted 159 red colobus, while in 2003, we saw 145 individuals. For both species, activity patterns in continuous forest were similar to those in a fragment, with the exception that individuals in the fragment rested more. Colobus in the fragment ate more mature leaves than colobus in the continuous forest did. Fragments supported all the fuelwood needs of an average of 32 people who lived immediately adjacent to them, and partially supported families up to 3 farms away (ca. 400 m), representing 576 people. Intensive harvesting for fuelwood occurred when neighboring households engaged in beer brewing (an average of 9.6% of the households), gin distilling (8.8%), or charcoal production (14.5%). Overall, between 2000 and 2003, the average density of trees declined by 14 trees/ha (range = 0–60 trees/ha). If current rates of clearing continue, the probability that the fragments will continue to support colobus populations is low.