Conservation: New Potential for Stable Isotope Analysis?

  • James E. LoudonEmail author
  • Matt Sponheimer
Part of the Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects book series (DIPR)


This chapter examines the potential for using stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis as a tool for primate conservation. An animal’s stable isotope composition reflects the food it consumes and is permanently recorded in its tissue and excreta. One of the strengths of stable isotope analysis is its ability to examine broad dietary changes through time and space. This is extremely useful for ecologists interested in migratory behavior or dietary shifts due to environmental change or human influence. Among primates, researchers have documented geographic variation in diet linked to local vegetation and have explored dietary change through time by comparing the stable isotope compositions of existing populations to museum specimens (i.e., historic populations). Primatologists have also used stable isotope analysis to compare the diets of primate groups with varying degrees of access to human foods. Since stable isotopes record diet and dietary change, we discuss the promise of this technique for conservation with an emphasis on nonhuman primates. Like other methods available to conservationists, stable isotope analysis is most useful when interpreted in a broader historical and ecological context, and when coupled with behavioral observations, input from local stakeholders, and documentation of habitat loss, anthropogenic impacts, and disease ecology.


Stable isotope analysis Conservation Anthropogenic disturbance Nonhuman primates 


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyEast Carolina UniversityGreenvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Anthropology and Nutritional and Isotopic Ecology Lab (NIEL)University of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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