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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