As natural forest cover declines, planted forests have come to occupy an increasing percentage of the earth's surface, yet we know little about their suitability as alternative habitat for wildlife. Although some primate species use planted forests, few studies have compared primate populations in natural and nearby planted forests. From March 2006 to July 2010, we conducted line transect surveys and assessed group sizes and compositions in natural and nearby 60-70 year old mixed indigenous planted forest to determine the densities of diurnal primate species (Colobus guereza, Cercopithecus mitis, C. ascanius) in these two forest types at Isecheno, Kakamega Forest, Kenya. Line transect data were analyzed using the Encounter Rate, Whitesides, and Distance sampling methods, which all provided broadly consistent results. We found that all three diurnal primate species occupy both natural and planted forest at Isecheno. However, group densities of the two Cercopithecus species were 42-46% lower in planted than in natural forest. Colobus guereza achieved comparable group densities in the two forest types, although the species is found in smaller groups, and thus at lower (35%) individual density, in planted than in natural forest. Following a logging episode in the planted forest mid-way through our study, Cercopithecus ascanius group densities fell by 60% while C. mitis and Colobus guereza group densities remained stable over the next two years. Overall, our results suggest that while primate species vary in their response to habitat disturbance, planted forest has the potential to contribute to the conservation of some African monkey species. Even for the relatively flexible taxa in our study, however, 60-70 year old mixed indigenous planted forest failed to support densities comparable to those in nearby natural forest. From the perspective of Kakamega's primates, planted forests may supplement natural forest, but are not an adequate replacement for it.
© 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.