Monkey Forest Tales: Importance of fig trees for monkeys fragmented landscapes

La Marly Enero 2012 192

Following a related topic from last week, today’s post is about the importance of fig trees for monkeys in fragmented areas such as the study area. Fig trees have been called keystone species, because they produce fruits any time during a year, and usually out of the fruit production peak in many forests, providing fruit to many frugivorous species (e.g. birds, bats, monkeys, and other mammals) when no other fruits are available.
In fragmented areas, and especially in the study area, fig trees are very important for primates and other animals as a source of fruits. Fig trees are found inside the forest fragments, in living feces, isolated trees in the middle of the pastures, and in the forest fragments edges. Some species of fig trees produce large amounts of small fruits that last over several days providing an incredible source of food for many animals.
In the study area, all monkeys species consume fig trees fruits when they are available. Black-capped capuchins, Colombian squirrel monkeys, and red howler monkeys even cross small distances on the ground to reach fig trees with fruits, putting them at risk of predation from domestic dogs and raptors.
In the study area, only black-capped capuchins and Colombian squirrel monkeys had been observed eating together in the same fig tree. However, in continuous areas and larger fragments (> 500 ha) in the study region and in the Amazon up to four species of monkeys had been observed eating in the same tree. Although it’s not so frequent, usually different species used the same fig tree at different times.
When more than two species are eating in the same tree sometimes you can see a division of the area in which each species eat, with bigger species such as red howler, woolly monkeys or spider monkeys in the upper parts of the canopy and medium and smaller monkeys in the lower part or on the ground feeding from fallen fruits.
Fig trees are also used by nocturnal monkeys which sometimes share the fig tree with a common opossum in the study area. Other animals commonly seen during fig trees fruit production are toucans and parrots. So in fragmented areas, the same as in continuous areas fig trees became keystone species important for the survivorship of many frugivorous animals during the low fruit production season.
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Monkey Forest Tales: Importance of palms for primates in the study area

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Some weeks ago, someone from the region ask me if palms we’re important for primates. The short answer is yes they are important. Therefore, in today’s post, we are going to talk about the importance of palms for monkeys in the study area.
Colombia is one of the countries with more diversity of palms in the world. This makes palms an important source of resources for monkeys and other fauna such as birds, reptiles, frogs, and other mammals. Palms are used as nesting sites, as a source to search for insects and spiders, as a perch or a place to rest during the daily activities, and food. Fruits and flowers of many palm species are used by parrots, monkeys, and other mammals as food.
One feature common to most of palm fruits is a hard seed which contain oil, sometimes covered by a hard shell (epicarp), which make it difficult to break and the contains not always available for all animals.
For example, black-capped capuchins display an interesting behavior to open the nuts of cumare (Astrocaryum chambira), a tall palm species which trunk is covered by thorns, with a medium size nut of hard shell, which have a coconut inside rich in oil and when it is unripe it contains water. Black-capped capuchins get to the palm fruits very carefully from other trees around the cumare palm and then with their strong teeth take one nut from the cluster. One they have it, they move to a nearby trees with wide branches and start knocking the fruit using most of their bodies (Izawa 1979). Mostly the adult males are the ones that can open most of the palm fruits, juveniles imitate them but not always are successful.
Cumare palms were once a very common palm in the study area, however they have been cut from most of the forests and pastures because the cattle used to get hurt by its thorns, according to local people living in the area over 30 years.
Palms are used by monkeys as nesting sites or as food or to search insects and spiders. For example palms like moriche (Mauritia flexuosa) and unamas or milpeso (Oenocarpus bataua) are used as nesting sites for Brumbacks night monkeys (Aotus brumbackii), black-capped capuchins (Sapajus apella) and Colombian squirrel monkeys (Saimiri cassiquiarensis albigena). This palms are also used as food. All these monkeys used them to eat its flowers and its ripe and unripe fruits.
Other palms such as pona (Iriarthea exhorriza), asai (Euterpe oleracea) and cumare (Astrocarium chambira) are used only for their fruits for all monkey species in the study area, including the dusky titi monkey and the red howler monkeys. In the study area palms such as asai, unama and moriche are still common and very important for the local fauna, including monkeys.
Izawa, K. 1979. Food and feeding behavior of wild black-capped capuchin (Cebus apella). Primates 21: 57-76.
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Monkey Forest Tales: Some reflections about “colonialism in science” related to this project

Unamas Enero 2011 074

In today’s post, I want to talk about something that has been in my mind for a couple of days. Recently, an article talking about colonialism in science, makes me reflect on how this project has been conducted over the years. The article talked about how research projects in many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are leaded by people from developed countries who come to all these countries to do research and pay none or very poor attention to training local people to collect and lead research on their own wildlife.
Although in Colombia, our war history has stopped many foreign researchers to work in the country, my own professional and training history working with monkeys came from foreign researchers coming to Colombia to research and train Colombians to study monkeys.
However, although I am a national of the country where I do research, I came from a different region, and most of the students I had over the years came from different regions until recently, that I started to collaborate with a regional university. So despite being a national there is still some kind of colonialism thinking in the way we accept and train people to do a research between regions inside of Colombia.
The reasons why this happens don’t seem too clear for me, except that the students I trained are the ones who had shown an interest in monkeys even if they are not from the region where we were working. However, this can also be influenced by less interest or encouragement in regional universities to study the local wildlife.
In addition, although in the last years there is more interest in Colombia to study monkeys, especially the ones in a more critical situation, there is still a lot of emphasis in schools to talk about animals that are from other parts of the world such as tigers, or pandas, or elephants and lions, than talking about the animals we have in our country. Something I think it has to do with a colonialism way to teach science even at primary and high school levels.
So, even if we don’t want to admit it, I think we encourage in some way the colonialism thinking in the way we teach science and train our students. Probably we need to be more aware of this and encourage students from regional universities to be trained in the study of local fauna. As well as incentives the biology programs in regional universities.

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Monkey Forest Tales: How the COVID-19 is affecting this project?

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I apologize for missing last week’s post. As it is happening to most of all due to COVID-19 some of my priorities changed a bit. In today’s post, I want to talk about how the pandemic had impacted this project. As mentioned in previous posts, this is a project run not only with personal funds but also limited to a few people. Most people working at the moment in the project are undergraduate students, therefore with the limited movement allowed to us due to our national lockdown, most of their projects are stopped.
Additionally, I am also not allowed to travel, so data collection for our long term monitoring of monkey populations in the study area is also stopped. As our last field trip was in February, we were allowed to count the new babies from this year’s season of Colombian squirrel monkeys and dusky titi monkeys. However, since then, there has not been any data collected in the study area. Apart from local people reports in some farms, where the monkeys have been seen near to the houses in May.
As part of the goals of this project for 2020, we started some monitoring of Colombian squirrel monkeys in Villavicencio city, the biggest city in the region, and although with difficulty because of the movement restriction we have at the moment, some data collected on some groups with less periodicity that we used to do in San Martin area.
At the beginning of this project, back in 2004 -2005, I tried to train some local younger people as field assistants, teaching them basic data collection techniques, however as time passes and with the continuous changing of workers in the farms where this project is focused, people trained moved to other farms at the beginning and to other towns later, making more difficult to have locals as field assistants.
So, with the situation we are living at the moment it seems even more important for us to start implementing a more effective way to collect our long term monitoring data to allow us to continue to monitor monkeys populations despite the limitations we are facing at the moment.
In addition to the concerns related to our restrictions at the moment to collect data, there are the possibility that our travelling to the study area can affect the local people and monkeys due to the virus spread. COVID-19 is a virus that has the ability to move across species and therefore it is a potential risk for monkey populations in the study area and in all natural habitats where they live. So although we want to continue with our project and long term monitoring of monkeys, for now our activities are limited and constrained to anecdotal data.

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