Monkey Forest Tales: Primates as herbivorous and the coexisting forces that shape this relationship

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Coming back to our series of posts talking about the different roles that monkeys have in the forest. Another important role of primates in the habitats in which they live is their roles as herbivorous, specifically by consuming leaves, fruits and flowers, without having in mind their complementary role as seed dispersers, which we already discussed here.
There is a strong and sometimes narrow relationship between monkeys and the plants they feed on. In the case of plants used by monkeys for their fruits, there is an important balance in terms of the nutrients those fruits give to the monkeys and at the same time how much energy and resources those plants put to produce fruits that are attractive to the monkeys they want to consume them and help them to disperse.
In the case of plants which leaves are consumed by monkeys, their relationship is based on two opposite sides. One for the plant, which needs to find a way to protect its leaves from being consumed, especially the young ones, because plants need them to function. Therefore some plants invest a lot of energy and resources to make those young leaves less attractive by adding some chemicals that make them taste bad or being toxic. In the case of mature leaves, the plant strategy varies to make it’s structure more difficult to process and at the same time make them less tasty. This is the reason why monkeys feeding on a diet with a high proportion of leaves had different behavioral and physiological adaptations to survive on this type of diet.
One of those behavioral strategies is to spend time on the top of big trees taking sun baths that help them to process the heaviness of a diet full of leaves. This is one of the reasons also, for example for red howler monkeys to spend so much time sleeping and taking sun baths, they need time and energy to digest the leaves they consumed. They are not lazy as you could think from the many hours they spend sleeping during the day.
Other monkeys had developed a more specialized stomach that help them to process the toxins and high fiber contents of leaves, such as the monkeys from the colobus family in Africa and Asia, which had specialized stomach, in some cases similar to the cow’s stomach.
There is an additional strategy used by red howler monkeys, the most folivorous of the monkeys in the study area. This strategy consist on consuming soil from salt licks or from termite’s nests. It seems some minerals in these soils help them to eliminate toxins from the leaves they consume.
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Monkey Forest Tales: Celebrating the resilience of the biodiversity of highly fragmented landscapes

Figura 1 Xyomara Carretero-Pinzón. Decision Point

This week, on May 22nd, we celebrate the biodiversity day. A celebration of the diversity of all living things. Although highly fragmented landscapes have less biodiversity than a more pristine, less fragmented areas, it still maintains biodiversity.

Something that a lot of people, including scientists and especially conservationists, seem to forget. One of the main characteristics of biodiversity is its resilience, this means its capacity to recover after a difficult event.

Living in a fragmented landscape means that the resources (food, mates, nesting sites, etc.) and space are reduced and altered in some way. Therefore, that fragmentation and loss of habitat are those difficult events for many species of plants and animals, that need to recover and persist even after the better condition of their habitat has been altered.

For monkeys, for example, this sometimes means living in smaller territories or to use not so friendly spaces to get where food is available, or to travel long distances to eat some special food or to find a new mate. It also means facing new predators and eat new foods.

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For some plants these new conditions mean to grow in a place with more light than a particular plant is used to, or with more restriction, or competing with new species that they weren’t in contact before.

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However, some of them have the capacity to recover and adapt to those new conditions and although in a simpler way to making the forest fragments to continue to function in an altered environment. These functioning forest fragments still give us, humans, some of the most important services that biodiversity provides. Without some of those services, such as clean water, oxygen, functional soils, pollinators our crops and livestock could not survive.

So, in this post, I want to share with you some images of that resilient biodiversity that still live and thrive in the highly fragmented landscape where I have the privilege of work for more than a decade.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Importance of monkeys as preys

Another important role of monkeys in the habitats in which they live in their roles as prey. In today’s post, we are going to talk about this in detail.

If you remember from your biology classes at school, in nature there is a web in which different animals feed on other animals, when an animal eats another animal it is called predator, and the animal that is eaten is called the prey. As a prey and a predator, an animal can be located at different parts in the food web, except for the top predators, the animals who feed on another major predator.

As we saw in my last post, monkeys can be predators, but they can also be prey, mainly from different species of wild cats or other carnivorous such as foxes and tayras. And on some occasions they can be prey for other primate species too. For example, red colobus is a well-known prey for chimpanzees in Africa. In the Neotropics (i.e. Latin America), there are several reports of titi monkey species as opportunistic prey of different species of capuchin monkeys.

In the study area, we had observed black-capped capuchins preying opportunistically on an adult of Brumback’s night monkeys. No other events like this have been observed until now, however, we had seen at least two near predation events of tayras preying on black-capped capuchins and Colombian squirrel monkeys in the study area.

Monkeys in the study area are also prey to feral dogs. Most dogs that had escaped from near farms, had been left in the road, abandon or dogs that had been left to roam freely in the farm’s forest and pastures.

Also, crested caracaras had been observed attacking black-capped capuchin and Colombian squirrel monkeys when they are using the living fences to cross between forest fragments.

In the biggest forest fragments in the study area, we suspect that primates are also preys of ocelots, margays, oncillas, cougar, jaguars, tayras, short-eared dogs, anacondas and crested eagles. All these predators have been observed in the study area but only tayras we had observed attacking monkeys.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Monkeys as predators

In today’s post we are going to explore the importance of monkeys as predators, an important function inside of the food web in forest fragments.

As part of the diet of many species of monkey they consume animal preys of different sizes. Some species consume only insects, mollusk and spiders, but some other also consume small vertebrates such as birds, frogs, small mammals and lizards. Therefore, they became predators to some animals in the forest where they live.

Predators meet an important function in food webs and in the general functioning of ecosystems by controlling the populations of the species they predate on. One example of how monkeys help in this matter is when they predate on caterpillars from some butterfly species who can eat a complete tree during their populations boom.

In the study area black-capped capuchins and Colombian squirrel monkeys had been observed feeding on those caterpillar for several days on the same tree, reducing their population and in this way helping that tree to survive.

Black capped capuchins and Colombian squirrel monkeys are also opportunistic predators of small vertebrates such as birds, small mammals, frogs and lizards, having an important influence in the population dynamics of these animals as in some cases they predate more often on younger animals such bird eggs or chicks and mammals babies (Carretero-Pinzón et al 2008, Fragszy et al 2004).

Observations of dusky titi monkeys and Brumback nigh monkeys consuming insects and spider also suggest that they fulfill a function as predators, although with lower intensity than black-capped capuchins and Colombian squirrel monkeys.

Red howler monkeys is an herbivorous species which mainly consume fruits, flowers and leaves. Although it has been reported an opportunistic consumption of chicken eggs in fragmented areas of Brazil for a related species (Bicca-Marques et al, 2009), this behavior had not been observed in the study area.

Bicca-Marques JC, Barboza-Muhle C, Mattjie Prates H, Garcia de Oliveira S, Calegaro-Marques C (2009) Habitat impoverishment and egg predation by Alouatta caraya. International Journal of Primatology 30: 743-748.

Carretero-Pinzón, X., Defler, T.R. & S. Ferrari. 2008. Wild Black Capped capuchins (Cebus apella) feeding on a night monkey (Aotus brumbacki) in eastern Colombian Llanos. Neotropical Primates 15 (2): 62 – 63.

Fragaszy, D.M., Visalberghi, E., and L.M. Fedigan (eds) 2004b. The complete capuchin: The biology of the genus Cebus, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Monkeys as environmental engineers

 

Unamas - SR Enero 2012 212In today’s post, we are going to explore the importance of monkeys as environmental engineers in the habitat where they live. But first, what I mean by environmental engineers?

In human societies, engineers are the ones who make constructions or machines to transform the places where we live like building bridges to cross rivers and make buildings, and they also build machines so we can adapt to new environments.

But you will ask, how monkeys can be called environmental engineers? What that mean?

Well during the daily activities’ monkeys do, they travel around their habitats while searching for food, during these movements they jump between branches, sometimes breaking branches and dropping leaves, all these leaves and branches fall in the forest floor making more microhabitat available for insects to live in, as well as improving the nutrient cycling that makes possible to this forest to be so diverse in poor soil.

Also, when monkeys search for insects and spiders they also break branches, some of them destroy termite nest, and drops dead leaves, looking under dread trees and stones on the ground changing the microhabitat where they cross, destroying and building new microhabitats for small frogs and lizards, insects, spiders, fungus and other microorganisms to live in. These are the reasons why some researchers have called monkeys species environmental engineers.

In the study area, probably the species which transform more their habitat are the black-capped capuchins and Colombian squirrel monkeys. They do this not only because of their larger home range and widely use of different structures in the landscape, but also because of a high proportion of their diet consist of insect, spiders and small vertebrates such as frogs and lizards (up to 78 % of the Colombian squirrel monkeys’ time is spent searching for insects and spiders, Carretero-Pinzón 2008).

Although in a lesser proportion dusky titi monkeys and probably Brumback nigh monkeys also transform their habitat during their search for insects. Although red howler monkeys don’t consume insects, their use of termite’s nest to consume soil as well their behavior of sometimes break branches to reach fruits is their way to transform the habitat in which they live.

Carretero-Pinzón, 2008. Efecto de la disponibilidad de recursos (artrópodos y frutos) sobre la ecología y el comportamiento de Saimiri sciureus albigena en fragmentos de bosques de galería, San Martín (Meta – Colombia). Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Bogotá, Colombia.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Celebrating Earth Day!

This week we celebrated Earth Day on April 22nd, around the world people use this special date to remember the importance of our planet and reflect on how we are treating the only planet we have. Earth day should be every day, not only because is our home, but because we are part of that home.

With this special celebration, we will like to share some of our thoughts about what this special day means not only for us and this project, for my own work, but also share some of the things we all can do to celebrate and taking care of our planet every single day.

We share this planet with a wide and highly diverse arrangement of living things, all of them with a function inside of the planet. Some of these functions can look to us as unnecessary as the presence of so many species of mosquitos, bugs, mites, and other living things that make us feel uncomfortable but that are important for the control of many populations of animals from which they feed.

Although some people can be seen as not related to the planet, this project work focuses on the understanding of the relationships and population dynamics of monkeys in a human transformed landscape. As well as my work, by training students and every time I share the results and findings of this project with local people, landowners, and the scientific community, are both parts of the work of many people (mostly scientist), who grow up with an increasing curiosity to understand how this planet and its inhabitants live and relate between them.

Over the last decade’s many studies had found that human activities had produced a series of effects on the habitats and organisms that live on those habitats, sometimes good effects for some and other times, unfortunately, most of the time, bad effects on those habitats. However, there is still possible to change the course of most of those bad effects on our planet.

It is through small actions that every one of us can do in our daily lives that we can change the course of the bad effects we are causing to our planet. So what we can do:

  1. Plant a tree or if you have a land let a part of that land to regenerate naturally. This not only increases the capture of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but also in human-dominated areas vegetation increase the well-being of people living nearby, increase the presence of other plant and animal species, increasing the services that nature gives to humans (ecosystem services).
  2. Buy responsible, use your right to buy a product to shape the market responses for more environmentally friendly products, not only for food products by other goods and services that we use in our lives.
  3. Recycle, reuse, and reduce the amount of garbage that you as individual produce and consume (here there are some ideas).
  4. Implement a simple compost system to reuse the vegetable waste you produce in your home (here is there is one way to do it).
  5. Support any local, regional, or international campaign to protect and reinforce the protection of natural areas. As citizens, we have the right and responsibility to protect and make that our governments protect our natural environments.
  6. Use more the bicycle, walking, public transport, or sharing your car instead of using the car for only one person.
  7. Teach your kids and younger people around you about al these small actions you can do every day to take care of our planet

As you see, there are many small actions we can do in our daily lives that reduce the impact our activities have on the planet we all share. As Jane Goodall usually said “What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make”

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Monkey Forest Tales: Monkeys as seed dispersers

Sapajus apella (Colombian Llanos)Female

In past posts, we talk about the importance of monkeys in the forests as seed dispersers, environmental engineers and predators, in the following posts we are going to explore a bit more about the importance of monkeys meeting these functions in the forest in which they live. In this post, we are going to start with the importance of monkeys as seed dispersers in general and for the study area.

When monkeys eat fruits, sometimes the spit the seed under the tree they are eating, but other times they move to eat in a neighbor tree and spit the seed a little bit farther from the tree from which they take them. And other times they consumed the seeds from the fruits they were eating and expel those seeds in their feces. In all these cases if the seed is not consumed by the monkeys (i.e. they don’t destroy the seed during its consumption), they are dispersing those seeds.

Seed dispersion is one of the most important benefits an animal can give to a plant from which that animal consumes its fruits. It is important for the plants, and therefore for the forest, in two main aspects: 1) distance from the tree from which the fruit was taken, and 2) time to germinate and produce a new plant.

The farthest the seed is dispersed by the monkeys, the better disperser it is because this reduces the competition of that plant from other plants of the same species. Also, if the monkey consumes the seed and as a product of this the seed germinate faster this can also be beneficial for the plant.

There are some plant species that actually need that their seeds pass through the monkeys, or other animals, gut in order to germinate. During this process, the acids in the animal gut react with the seed coat and this process can accelerate the germination time.

In our study area, all primate species disperse in some way the seeds they consumed from fruit trees, but some monkeys are better dispersers than others. For example, black-capped capuchins are good dispersers of medium-sized seeds and disperse more plant species compared with red howler monkeys which are better dispersers of large seeds and disperse more amount of seeds of fewer species (Ramos, 2007). Also, red howler monkeys are good dispersers of fig trees as seeds found in their feces germinate faster than seeds collected from the mature fruits (Gaitan, 2009). More studies of the seed dispersion skill from the Colombian squirrel monkeys, Brumback night monkeys, and dusky titi monkeys in the area are still lacking.

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Monkey Forest Tales: What is the relation between habitat loss and our pandemic current situation?

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Having in mind what we are living around the world, a pandemic caused by a new virus, I thought I will talk a bit about this topic from a biologist/ conservationist perspective. I’m not going to talk about the virus itself, I don’t work with viruses, I leave that to the experts. But I do work in areas where habitat loss occurs and where wild animals enter in more close contact with humans and their domestic animal populations. These are the areas where some of those new viruses emerge and create this kind of chaos. So, today’s post is bout what is the relationship between habitat loss and our pandemic current situation.

Habitat loss or deforestation is the process in which a habitat such a swamp, forest, mangroves, grassland, or any natural habitat is reduced in terms of the amount of area. When habitat loss occurs, there is a chain of biological processes that started in a sequence. The initial loss of habitat produces a reduced availability of resources for wild animals that live in those habitats. As well as populations been more crowded because of the reduction in area. This means there are more animals than resources available in a reduced space. So, they have to go out of their natural habitats to the human-modified habitat to find resources for their lives.

All wild animals, as well as our domestic animals and ourselves, have microbes inside them. Those microbes are adapted to them and usually didn’t represent a big problem for them, other animals or us. But when wild animals from areas where habitat loss occurs get crowded and enter in contact with our domestic animals and us, those microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms) start moving between us.

That microbe’s movement between wild animals, domestic animals and us, is what makes those microbes potentially more dangerous to produce a pandemic episode like the one we all are facing today.

So, even if it looks a bit disconnected from all our activities, the truth is that every time we open wild and remote areas to new roads, crop fields, and human settlements, these areas become a potential focus of new emerging diseases that can potentially affect our daily lives, as this pandemic is doing now.

Although at the moment the only solution we had is to keep our distance from each other’s and quarantine ourselves to protect everyone else from this virus. Next time you have the opportunity to support any policy or movement that protects the natural habitat from being destroyed, please think a bit of what we are living now and try to stop it.

We are all connected on this only planet we all share, as this pandemic is showing us, and we all have the responsibility to try to stop this pandemic to occurs in our future if we all understand that we are all together on this.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Why monkeys are NOT good pets?

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In the last post, we talk about one of the problems caused by human’s fascination with monkeys, feeding wild monkeys. Today post we are going to talk about the other problem that fascination had caused to monkeys, the illegal pet trade.

When we talk about illegal pet trade we are talking about selling monkeys as pets. You will probably don’t see a problem with that as we also have other animals as pets. But behind the problem of one monkey keep as a pet is all the others that had been killed to catch the one you have.

Monkeys are social animals that live in groups. Usually, the animals ending as pets are the smaller ones, the babies. This means that for you to get that baby you see so cute, the people who sell it to you or the people who give it to them had to kill at least the mother, and usually other members of their group who try to defend the mother and her baby.

Additionally, because monkeys are as dependent on their mothers as we are, if the monkey is too small, it’s possible that the baby didn’t survive the transport and time since her/his mom was killed and the time when you get him/her. So, for each animal that you buy, there are several individuals that were killed so you get a cute monkey pet.

The other problem with having monkeys as pets is that they grow up, and when they do it, they became less cute, sometimes more aggressive and more complicated to handle. Some of them even have some behavioral or psychological problems caused by their isolation.

Similar to what happened, when a child grows up isolated without any other kids to play with and with limited contact with other humans. Monkeys growing up didn’t develop all the social skills they learn from their mothers and other members of their groups. This affects them and exacerbates some behaviors that in the social context they use to relate with other individuals in their groups.

So, if you think a baby monkey is cute and you have the impulse to buy one, please don’t. Don’t promote this kind of commerce. It’s better if you adopt a cat or a dog from a shelter or you can search for adoption programs in zoos where for a donation you can help maintain zoo animals and they will share their histories with you. Or if you prefer you can support people working with your favorite primate.

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Monkey Forest Tales: A small gift for those of you like me that need the forest to feel OK, but can get it right now

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Today’s post I want to share some of the strategies that I had used over more than 20 years working in the field or in cities in an isolated type of situation. I also want to share some of the images, recordings I used and still used when feeling isolated and need a boost of motivation for my life.

As I mentioned before, I had worked in many places, far from family and friends over the years, sometimes in magical places like an incredible forest. And some other times in small, isolated towns in my country and other countries. In all those places isolation came in different ways and although sometimes I had movement freedom in others I didn’t have it. And I actually being isolated with very few people or only myself to keep me company.

Although I’m used to be alone and I actually enjoy it. Feeling sad when you are alone is common and it is ok. It’s on those moments that I need the most forest and monkeys… I learned a very long time ago that being close to nature heals me physically and emotionally.

So, when I’m isolated and can’t go to the forest and see monkey I use the pictures  I’m attaching to this post to rebalance my life. That is my best strategy against isolation, sadness and lack of motivation. I hope it gives you a bit of motivation in these times. Please feel free to share it with anyone you think will enjoy them and will help them in this time of isolation, just keep the credits. We all need a few positive images and motivation to help us in these times…

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