Monkey Forest Tales: Importance of palms for primates in the study area


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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