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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