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Assessment of environmental impacts of a colony of free-ranging rhesus monkeys (Macca mulatta) on Morgan Island, South Carolina


Morgan Island, located within the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve in South Carolina, is home to the only free-ranging colony of rhesus monkeys (Macca mulatta) in the continental United States. The purpose of this study was to assess environmental impacts of the monkey colony on water quality in adjacent tidal creeks and on island vegetation. Three tidal creeks were sampled: Morgan Creek, adjacent to the monkey colony; Back Creek, on Morgan Island not adjacent to the colony; and Rock Creek, on a nearby island unoccupied by monkeys. Temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, nutrients and fecal coliform bacteria were measured six times at three sites in each of these creeks, and vegetation change analysis was conducted in a geographic information system using satellite imagery. Results showed elevated fecal coliform concentrations in the Morgan Creek site immediately adjacent to the colony, though no samples exceeded the standard set for recreational water use. Ribotyping reconnaissance matched four Escherichia coli isolates from Morgan and Back Creeks to the monkeys, identifying the colony as one source of fecal coliform bacteria, though relative source loadings could not be quantified. Significant differences were not observed between ammonia or orthophosphate levels in Morgan Creek relative to the other creeks tested; and vegetation change analysis showed a 35% increase in canopy cover between 1979 and 1999. Overall, these results suggest that the rhesus colony’s environmental impacts are localized and minimal. Results from this study provide baseline data on Morgan Island and may be useful in management decisions regarding the future of the monkey colony.

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Correspondence to Paul A. Sandifer.

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Klopchin, J.L., Stewart, J.R., Webster, L.F. et al. Assessment of environmental impacts of a colony of free-ranging rhesus monkeys (Macca mulatta) on Morgan Island, South Carolina. Environ Monit Assess 137, 301–313 (2008).

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  • ACE basin
  • Morgan Island
  • Rhesus monkey
  • Fecal coliforms
  • Water quality