We just published a new paper that provides insights into where chimpanzees avoided climate instability during glacial and interglacial periods in Africa over the past 120,000 years. Understanding past responses to change is essential for the future conservation of species because it helps to increase our understanding of how climate change impacts biodiversity, and how we may need to mitigate against predicted biodiversity loss in the future.
To conduct this research we used chimpanzee presence data from the IUCN/SSC APES database combined with paleoclimatic reconstructions and historical human density data to model chimpanzee habitat suitability since the Last Interglacial period (120,000 years ago, see Fig. 1). We built species distribution models for 62 different snapshots of time during this time period, using these to quantitatively assess which areas have remained more stable for chimpanzees, and which have been subject to high levels of change. Our overarching results using three different estimates of habitat stability (Fig. 2D-F) show that several areas previously considered as refugia from global change (Maley, 1996) may be much larger than previously thought for chimpanzees (Fig. 2A). We demonstrate that that these areas closely match the species richness patterns of important keystone food resources for primates (figs and palms, Fig. 2B-C), together suggesting that these additional refugial areas may deserve additional conservation protection. Our work here provides a new resource to aid our understanding of the rich behavioural and genetic diversity patterns exhibited by chimpanzees, and how past global change may have influenced this. It may also help guide predictions of future global change and how it will affect biodiversity.
We also provide a DRYAD data and script package so that these analyses can be re-run, or applied to other species/geographic regions.