Linking changes in landscape structure to population changes of an endangered primate

  • Norma P. Arce-Peña
  • Víctor Arroyo-RodríguezEmail author
  • Pedro A. D. Dias
  • Iván Franch-Pardo
  • Ellen Andresen
Research Article



Non-human primates are among the most threatened mammals on Earth. Although some species, such as howler monkeys, are thought to be resistant to initial phases of habitat disturbance, the lack of longitudinal studies prevents determining if this holds over time.


We assessed temporal changes in landscape structure in the Lacandona rainforest, Mexico, and how these changes relate to population trends of black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra).


We surveyed primates in 22 forest sites in 2011 and 2017, and related temporal changes in primate abundance and immature-to-female ratio with changes in the spatial structure of local landscapes (forest cover, matrix openness, number of forest patches, and forest edge density) using a multi-scale approach.


Landscape changes occurring over a 6-year period were strongly associated with temporal changes in population parameters. Primate abundance increased as forest cover increased. Both primate abundance and immature-to-female ratio increased in sites located in landscapes where the number of patches increased over time, but where the proportion of open matrix decreased. Edge density showed a negative effect on immature-to-female ratio.


This endangered primate might not be as tolerant to landscape disturbance as generally thought. Allowing forest patches to increase in number and/or size through active or passive restoration (reverse fragmentation), and preventing forest loss and an increase in matrix openness are key management strategies to preserve howler monkeys in this biodiversity hotspot.


Habitat loss Habitat fragmentation Human-modified landscape Scale of effect Tropical rainforest 



We thank the financial support provided by Rufford Small Grants (No. 22049-1), and SEP-CONACyT (Project 2015-253946). N.P.A.P. obtained a graduate scholarship from CONACyT. This paper constitutes a partial fulfillment of the PhD program of the Posgrado en Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). We thank Luis Daniel Ávila Cabadilla for all his insightful comments to this project, and Carlos Palomares Magaña for his technical support in GIS. J. M. Lobato, H. Ferreira, A. Valencia and A. López also provided technical support. We thank landowners in the Marqués de Comillas region for allowing us to collect data on their properties, as well as the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve and the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP). Finally, we thank Natura y Ecosistemas Mexicanos A.C. and the Chajul Biological Station for providing logistical support. A special acknowledgement to Adolfo Jamangapé, as this study would not have been possible without his field assistance.

Supplementary material

10980_2019_914_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 3325 kb)


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas y SustentabilidadUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMoreliaMexico
  2. 2.Primate Behavioral Ecology Lab, Instituto de NeuroetologíaUniversidad VeracruzanaXalapaMexico
  3. 3.Escuela Nacional de Estudios SuperioresUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMoreliaMexico

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