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African Monkey's DNA Points to Climate Change, Drexel Researchers Find

May 29, 2012

Dr. Gail Hearn - Drexel BiologistDrexel biologists Dr. Gail Hearn and Dr. Shaya Honarvar, along with a team of nine other researchers, have been studying a rare and endangered monkey whose DNA could provide insight into the effects of climate change on rainforest-adapted species. The Mandrillus leucophaeus, or drill monkey, is a large-bodied primate that dwells in the African equatorial rainforest. The study found that the species, which is already threatened by poachers and habitat destruction, might not be able to survive the imminent atmospheric warm-up.

The group is using genetic evidence from present-day monkeys as a guide to the species’ past. These modern DNA samples suggest what regional fossils confirm: that the drills experienced a significant population collapse in a period of much hotter, dryer weather 3000-5000 years ago. If deforestation and hunting continues, the subsequent changes to the environment and vegetation could prove catastrophic for the primates and other tropical inhabitants.

The findings have been published in the journal Ecology and Evolution and are also available on and

For more information on Dr. Hearn’s work, please visit her lab site.