March 1, 2013
Swamp Forests Deserve More Attention For Species Conservation
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Facing relentless human encroachment, some endangered primates and large cats will seek sanctuary in the sultry thickets of mangrove and peat swamp forests. These are not inviting places. Instead they are harsh coastal biomes with thick vegetation such as clusters of salt-loving mangrove trees and highly acidic peat soil composed of the waterlogged remains of partially decomposed leaves and wood. Because of these conditions, swamp forests are among the few areas in Africa and Asia that humans are relatively uninterested in exploiting. Unfortunately, that is changing.
When conservationists are monitoring the distribution of threatened animals such as the Sumatran orangutans and Javan leopards, however, they have been slow to consider these tropical hideways. A new study from Princeton University draws attention to these current, and hopefully future, wildlife refuges. Katarzyna Nowak, a former postdoctoral researcher of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, compiled a list of 60 primates and 20 felids (the large-cat family that includes tigers and leopards) known to divide their time between some 47 swamp forests in Africa and Asia and their natural forest habitats.
The findings of this study were published in a recent issue of Folia Primatologica.
There are few mammals exclusive to these swamp forests because they often lack food sources, fresh water and easy mobility. A surprising amount, 55 percent, of Old World monkeys — primates such as baboons and macaques, native to Asia and Africa — retreat to the swamp forests either regularly, seasonally or as needed. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) reported in 2008 that the inaccessible Lake Tele swamp forest in the Republic of the Congo was home to 125,000 lowland gorillas. That is more than were thought to exist in the wild overall. The sole ground of the Bengal Tiger in Bangladesh is in the world's largest mangrove swamp, the Sundarbans.
In a prior study published in the American Journal of Primatology in 2008, Nowak reported that life in these swamps could be harsh for some animals. Some, such as the crab-eating macaque and the fishing cat can adapt rather easily to a life of swimming and foraging for crustaceans. For other species, such as Zanzibar's red colobus monkey that has been driven to the swamp forests by deforestation, the struggle to find enough freshwater could result in its extinction.
Swamp forests deserve more attention and further exploration as sites where endangered species such as the lowland gorilla and flat-headed cat have preserved their numbers, Nowak believes. These sites could be used to potentially preserve these species into the future.