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A study on the carrying capacity of the available habitat for the Rhinopithecus bieti population at Mt. Laojun in Yunnan, China

Li, Li, Yu, Shixiao, Ren, Baoping, Li, Ming, Wu, Ruidong, Long, Yongcheng
Environmental science and pollution research international 2009 v.16 no.4 pp. 474-478
Primates, carrying capacity, coniferous forests, genetic techniques and protocols, geographic information systems, global positioning systems, grazing, habitat destruction, habitats, logging, managers, mining, monkeys, rapid methods, surveys, traps, wildlife, China
Background, aim, and scope The Yunnan snub-nosed monkey is one of the most endangered primates in the world. It is experiencing a range of ongoing threats and the persisting effects of past disturbances. The prospects for this species are not very optimistic because habitat corridors are severely damaged by logging, grazing, and mining. Each group of the monkeys in different areas is facing a unique variety of threats. Based on genetic analysis, Rhinopithecus bieti should be separated into three management units for conservation, of which the Mt. Laojun management unit involves the most endangered primates. Despite the fact that the vegetation on Mt. Laojun is in a relatively pristine state, only two groups of monkeys, of a total of fewer than 300, survive in the area. With this paper, we aimed to address the capacity of the monkeys' habitat at the study site and the possible reasons for the small populations. Materials and methods Rapid ecological assessment based on a SPOT 5 image and field survey was used to simulate the vegetation of the whole area based on reference ecological factors of the GIS system. The vegetation map of the site was thus derived from this simulation. Based on the previous studies, the three vegetation types were identified as the suitable habitat of the monkeys. The confusion matrix-based field GPS points were applied to analyze the precision of the habitat map. Based on the map of suitable habitat of the monkeys, the utilization of the habitat and the carrying capacity were analyzed in the GIS. Results The confusion matrix-based field GPS points were applied to the habitat analysis process, and it was found that the habitat map was 81.3% precise. Then, with the current habitat map, we found that the mixed forest currently used by the monkeys is only a very small fraction (2.65%) of the overall potential habitat of the population, while the dark conifer forest is 4.09%. Discussion Poaching is the greatest short-term threat to this species, particularly in the southern range where local residents have a strong tradition of hunting. Quite a few individual monkeys are still trapped accidentally due to the high density of traps. These problems are hard to mitigate because it is difficult to enforce laws due to the extremely rugged terrain. Conclusions The results show that there is a great ecological capacity of the area for the monkey's survival and a great potential for an expansion of the monkey population at the site. Based on the current population and its geographical range, it can be estimated that the suitable habitat area defined by this study can support more monkeys, about many times the current population. Thus, at least in the Mt. Laojun Area, poaching pressure is the main factor to be responsible for the low density of Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys instead of habitat alteration. Recommendations and perspectives Based on these results, some suggestions relating to conservation can be made: Focus conservation efforts on the current distribution area of the monkeys and create a 20 km buffer zone; design a long-term plan for the suitable habitat outside the buffer zone to set up a wildlife corridor in the long run; establish an association for the local hunters exploiting, their knowledge on the animals to promote monkey conservation and stop poaching. Also, the map derived from the study helps managers to allocate conservation resources more efficiently and enhances the overall outcomes of conservation measures.