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


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.

La Marly Enero 2012 155

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.


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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