The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Do capuchins change the forest through the trees?


1Anthropology, Santa Clara University, 2Biology, Santa Clara University, 3AAAS S&T Policy Fellow, Assigned to the National Science Foundation

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In this research, we examine the potential impact of capuchin (Cebus capucinus) foraging on plant growth. Monkeys remove epiphytes, living and dead plant parts and unstable branches as they forage for fruits, invertebrates, and small vertebrates. We collected 200 hours of behavioral data at Estación Biológica La Suerte in Costa Rica; recording feeding/foraging, substrate type, and collecting all discarded plant parts for measurement. We also assessed bromeliad density with regard to host species and available light in 76 randomly-selected circular forest structure plots (radius = 5 meters, area = 78.5m2). Capuchins removed woody substrates in 10.7% of insect foraging activity records. During fruit foraging, capuchins removed terminal fruits, meristems, and other foliage in 72.8% of the observations. A total of 766 plant parts from 95 species were removed from plants and collected during 100 hours of behavioral data. We found 97 whole bromeliads and 38 partial bromeliads on the forest floor in 76 plots. Although several factors contribute to bromeliad distribution, abundance, and location in the canopy, data presented here suggest that capuchin foraging changes epiphyte density and distribution, potentially influencing branch failure. Our preliminary results also suggest that capuchin removal of decaying branches, terminal buds, and fruit may influence tree growth, productivity, and branch architecture. Significant indirect impacts of monkey foraging on forest community ecology adds a new dimension to understanding the role of primates in ecosystems and highlights the importance of preserving forests large enough to support healthy monkey populations.

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