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      Social and ecological factors alter stress physiology of Virunga mountain gorillas ( Gorilla beringei beringei)

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          Living in a rapidly changing environment can alter stress physiology at the population level, with negative impacts on health, reproductive rates, and mortality that may ultimately result in species decline. Small, isolated animal populations where genetic diversity is low are at particular risks, such as endangered Virunga mountain gorillas ( Gorilla beringei beringei). Along with climate change‐associated environmental shifts that are affecting the entire population, subpopulations of the Virunga gorillas have recently experienced extreme changes in their social environment. As the growing population moves closer to the forest's carrying capacity, the gorillas are coping with rising population density, increased frequencies of interactions between social units, and changing habitat use (e.g., more overlapping home ranges and routine ranging at higher elevations). Using noninvasive monitoring of fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGM) on 115 habituated Virunga gorillas, we investigated how social and ecological variation are related to baseline FGM levels, to better understand the adaptive capacity of mountain gorillas and monitor potential physiological indicators of population decline risks. Generalized linear mixed models revealed elevated mean monthly baseline FGM levels in months with higher rainfall and higher mean maximum and minimum temperature, suggesting that Virunga gorillas might be sensitive to predicted warming and rainfall trends involving longer, warmer dry seasons and more concentrated and extreme rainfall occurrences. Exclusive use of smaller home range areas was linked to elevated baseline FGM levels, which may reflect reduced feeding efficiency and increased travel efforts to actively avoid neighboring groups. The potential for additive effects of stress‐inducing factors could have short‐ and long‐term impacts on the reproduction, health, and ultimately survival of the Virunga gorilla population. The ongoing effects of environmental changes and population dynamics must be closely monitored and used to develop effective long‐term conservation strategies that can help address these risk factors.

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          Most cited references 73

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          The velocity of climate change.

          The ranges of plants and animals are moving in response to recent changes in climate. As temperatures rise, ecosystems with 'nowhere to go', such as mountains, are considered to be more threatened. However, species survival may depend as much on keeping pace with moving climates as the climate's ultimate persistence. Here we present a new index of the velocity of temperature change (km yr(-1)), derived from spatial gradients ( degrees C km(-1)) and multimodel ensemble forecasts of rates of temperature increase ( degrees C yr(-1)) in the twenty-first century. This index represents the instantaneous local velocity along Earth's surface needed to maintain constant temperatures, and has a global mean of 0.42 km yr(-1) (A1B emission scenario). Owing to topographic effects, the velocity of temperature change is lowest in mountainous biomes such as tropical and subtropical coniferous forests (0.08 km yr(-1)), temperate coniferous forest, and montane grasslands. Velocities are highest in flooded grasslands (1.26 km yr(-1)), mangroves and deserts. High velocities suggest that the climates of only 8% of global protected areas have residence times exceeding 100 years. Small protected areas exacerbate the problem in Mediterranean-type and temperate coniferous forest biomes. Large protected areas may mitigate the problem in desert biomes. These results indicate management strategies for minimizing biodiversity loss from climate change. Montane landscapes may effectively shelter many species into the next century. Elsewhere, reduced emissions, a much expanded network of protected areas, or efforts to increase species movement may be necessary.
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            Simple means to improve the interpretability of regression coefficients

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              The use of 'altitude' in ecological research.

              Altitudinal gradients are among the most powerful 'natural experiments' for testing ecological and evolutionary responses of biota to geophysical influences, such as low temperature. However, there are two categories of environmental changes with altitude: those physically tied to meters above sea level, such as atmospheric pressure, temperature and clear-sky turbidity; and those that are not generally altitude specific, such as moisture, hours of sunshine, wind, season length, geology and even human land use. The confounding of the first category by the latter has introduced confusion in the scientific literature on altitude phenomena.

                Author and article information

                Ecol Evol
                Ecol Evol
                Ecology and Evolution
                John Wiley and Sons Inc. (Hoboken )
                01 April 2019
                May 2019
                : 9
                : 9 ( doiID: 10.1002/ece3.2019.9.issue-9 )
                : 5248-5259
                [ 1 ] Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Atlanta Georgia
                [ 2 ] Departmet of Anthropology Northwestern University Evanston Illinois
                [ 3 ] Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology Lincoln Park Zoo Chicago Illinois
                Author notes
                [* ] Correspondence

                Winnie Eckardt, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Karisoke Research Center, Musanze, Rwanda.

                Email: weckardt@

                © 2019 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

                This is an open access article under the terms of the License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Figures: 3, Tables: 2, Pages: 12, Words: 9659
                Funded by: United States Fish and Wildlife Service
                Award ID: F12AP01120
                Funded by: Wenner‐Gren Foundation
                Award ID: 20110146
                Funded by: National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant
                Award ID: 1122321
                Funded by: Leakey Foundation
                Original Research
                Original Research
                Custom metadata
                May 2019
                Converter:WILEY_ML3GV2_TO_NLMPMC version: mode:remove_FC converted:10.05.2019


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