News Stories

Monkey Pollution

This isn't the kind of pollution that monkeys MAKE, it's the kind they DETECT. It turns out that testing hair from Asian monkeys living close to people may provide early warnings of toxic threats to humans and wildlife (and those of us who don't have jungles nearby will just have to find another way). And at least monkeys listen to their females' advice most of the time!

In parts of South and Southeast Asia, macaques and people drink from identical water sources, breathe the same air, share food sources, and play on the same ground. When macaques live in environments polluted by motor vehicles, openly disposed garbage, and industrial waste, they can come into contact with toxic substances such as lead, just as their human neighbors might.

Science Daily quotes primate researcher Lisa Jones-Engel as saying, "Macaques are similar to humans anatomically, physiologically and behaviorally." Physician Gregory Engel adds, "They are also similar in their response to toxic exposures."

Science Daily quotes the Engels as saying, "Chemical analysis of hair is a promising, non-invasive technique for determining exposure to toxic elements in free-ranging, non-human primates, and further multidisciplinary research is needed to establish whether it can be used to predict lead levels in humans who live in the same areas."

Back to the USA, where we don't have any roaming monkeys who can warn us when our air gets too polluted. Salt Lake City area has the dubious distinction of sometimes having the most polluted air in the United States. Now, researchers are starting a three-year, $1.3 million study to better understand the winter weather "inversion" conditions cause poor air quality.

Salt Lake and other cities at the base of the Wasatch Range have endured repeated, pollutant-trapping inversions or "cold-air pools," giving the region the nation's worst air quality on some recent days, according to the EPA.. Researcher John Horel says, "We suffered from poor air quality for the latter part of December and most of January. This study is going to identify the weather that contributes to the development, maintenance and breakup of these inversions."

Researcher David Whiteman who is also working on the project says, "A good snow storm followed by clear skies sets up the event." So when it's snowing in Utah, there's more to worry about than just the cold.

When it comes to making decisions, monkeys pay more attention to females than to males. In BBC News, Victoria Gill quotes biologist Erica van de Waal as saying that when her team gave a group of wild African monkeys a test, "We found that bystanders paid significantly more attention to female than male models," meaning the males followed the females' lead in figuring it out. Van de Waal says, "Females are core group members with higher social status than males, and more knowledge about food resources in the home range." She thinks this reveals valuable insights into "the evolution of traditions and culture in species living in stable groups, including humans." This will tell us more about our own future.

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Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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