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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