University of Southern California (USC) researchers collected fecal samples and performed genetic analysis of an eastern chimpanzee habitat, to find that many more inhabit a shrinking forest of Uganda than previously thought.

"Our results show a surprisingly widespread and large chimpanzee population in this region, especially given the extent of habitat loss there," Maureen McCarthy, Ph.D. student at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, said in a statement.

McCarthy conducted this research over the course of two years, where she examined fragments between the Budongo and Bugoma reserves. This is an area of roughly 1,200 square km that runs along Lake Albert on Uganda's western border, the release said.

In this area, researchers found evidence for roughly 250 to 320 chimpanzees, whereas previous estimates based on counting nests from the ground estimated the population to be around 70. McCarthy further explained that genome clustering suggested that there are at least nine communities in the area, with a range of eight to 33 individual chimpanzees, a release said.

The population that McCarthy studied represents the growing status quo for these chimpanzees, which make a home out of shrinking forests rather than lush, abundant ones. Of the roughly 76,400 to 119,600 eastern chimpanzees left in the world, 5,000 are estimated to live in Uganda, according to a 2010 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature that classified them as "endangered."

"Hundreds of kilometers of forest are estimated to have been lost in this region in recent years, and we saw plenty of evidence of this while collecting data. Each time we re-visited an area, we found fewer trees than the last time we were there," McCarthy said in the release. She also noted that the chimpanzees are vulnerable to trapping, since the area is unprotected; and to a loss of food resources, since their fruit trees are rapidly being cut down.

McCarthy's research was recently published in the journal, BMC Ecology.

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