International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 1279–1297 | Cite as

Primate Group Size and Abundance in the Caatinga Dry Forest, Northeastern Brazil

  • Antonio Christian De A. Moura


The Caatinga dry forest poses a series of ecological challenges for mammals in general and primates in particular. The erratic rainfall pattern impacts on plant diversity and phenological patterns; from year to year there is marked variability in fruit production and failure to fruit is common. The harshness apparently accounts for the impoverished mammalian fauna. However, data on primate abundance, distribution, and possible environmental effects on primate density are lacking in this type of dry forest. I censused the primate community in 3 habitats of the Serra da Capivara National Park, Piaui, NE Brazil, over a total distance of 318 km. Overall, the abundance of primates in the Caatinga dry forest is very low as a consequence of low abundance of food resources both in space and time. Alouatta caraya (predominantly folivorous) occurs at extremely low density, and during the dry season are apparently confined to canyon areas, where trees retain their leaves. Callithrix jacchus has morphological feeding specializations for gum-eating, and gum is an important resource during food bottleneck periods. Nonetheless, Callithrix jacchus occurs at comparatively low densities. Group sizes for howlers and marmosets in the Caatinga are significantly smaller than in other forest types. Contrarily, Cebus apella libidinosus had an average group size within the range reported for Amazonian and Atlantic forests. Researchers consider the generalized diet of capuchins as the explanation for their similar abundance in different habitats, indicating relative independence from ecological constraints. However, I suggest that capuchin foraging style and cognitive abilities are important factors accounting for their unreduced group size and density even under extreme conditions.


cognitive foraging skills conservation feeding adaptations primate density 



I thank Dr. P. C. Lee and 2 anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript and Rebecca C. Coles for a few suggestions. I thank Hilvaro M. Moreira and Felipe Alessio for their assistance and companionship during the censuses. I also thank Niede Guidon for logistical support that made this work possible and the Brazilian Research Council (CNPq) for the Ph.D. scholarship.


  1. Andrade-Lima, D. (1981). The Caatinga dominium. Revista Brasileira de Botânica, 4, 149–153.Google Scholar
  2. Baldwin, J. D., & Baldwin, J. I. (1977). Observations on Cebus capucinus in Southwestern Panama. Primates, 18, 937–941.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bennett, C. L., Leonard, S., & Carter, S. (2001). Abundance, diversity and patterns of distribution of primates on the Tapiche river in Amazonian Peru. American Journal of Primatology, 54, 119–126.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown, A. D., & Zunino, G. E. (1990). Dietary variability in Cebus apella in extreme habitats: Evidence for adaptability. Folia Primatologica, 54, 187–195.Google Scholar
  5. Brugiere, D., Gautier, J.-P., Moungazi, A., & Gautier-Hion, A. (2002). Primate diet and biomass in relation to vegetation composition and fruiting phenology in a rain forest in Gabon. International Journal of Primatology, 23, 999–1022.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Buckland, S. T., Anderson, D. R., Burnham, K. P., Laake, J. L., Borchers, D. L., & Thomas, L. (2001). Introduction to distance sampling: Estimating abundance of biological populations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Butynski, T. M. (1990). Comparative ecology of blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis) in high- and low-density subpopulations. Ecological Monographs, 60, 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carrillo, E., Wong, G., & Cuaron, A. D. (2000). Monitoring mammal populations in Costa Rican protected areas under different hunting restrictions. Conservation Biology, 14, 1580–1591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ceballos, G. (1995). Vertebrate diversity, ecology, and conservation in neotropical dry forests.Seasonally dry tropical forests pp. 195–220. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Chapman, C. A. (1987). Flexibility in diets of three species of Costa Rican Primates. Folia Primatologica, 49, 90–105.Google Scholar
  11. Chapman, C. A. (1990). Ecological constraint on group size in three species of neotropical primates. Folia Primatologica, 55, 1–9.Google Scholar
  12. Chapman, C. A., & Chapman, L. A. (1999). Implications of small scale variation in ecological conditions for the diet and density of red colobus monkeys. Primates, 40, 215–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chiarello, A. G. (1997). Mammalian Community and Forest Structure of Atlantic Forest Fragments in South-eastern Brazil. PhD. thesis, Cambridge, U.K. University of Cambridge.Google Scholar
  14. Chiarello, A. G. (1999). Effects of fragmentation of the Atlantic forest on mammal communities in south-eastern Brazil. Biological Conservation, 87, 71–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chiarello, A. G. (2000). Density and population size of mammals in remnants of Brazilian Atlantic forest. Conservation Biology, 14, 1649–1657.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Coimbra-Filho, A. F., and Camara, I. de G. (1996). Os limites originais do bioma Mata Atlântica na região Nordeste do Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: FBCN.Google Scholar
  17. Coley, P. D., & Barone, J. A. (1996). Herbivory and plant defenses in tropical forests. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 27, 305–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cullen, L., Bodmer, E. R., & Valladares-Padua, C. (2001). Ecological consequences of hunting in Atlantic forest patches, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Oryx, 35, 137–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Defler, T. R. (1982). A comparison of inter-group behaviour in Cebus albifrons and C. apella. Primates, 23, 385–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dvoskin, R., Juarez, C. P., & Fernandez-Duque, E. (2004). Population density of black howlers (Alouatta caraya) in the gallery forests of the Argentinean Chaco: A preliminary assessment. Folia Primatologica, 75, 93–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Emmons, L. H. (1984). Geographic variation in densities and diversities of non-flying mammals in Amazonia. Biotropica, 16, 210–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Emperaire, L. (1984). A regiao da Serra da Capivara (sudeste do Piaui) e sua Vegetacao. Brasil Flor, 60, 4–21.Google Scholar
  23. Fedigan, L. M. (1990). Vertebrate predation in Cebus capucinus: Meat eating in a Neotropical monkey. Folia Primatologica, 54, 196–205.Google Scholar
  24. Fragaszy, D. M., Visalberghi, E., & Robinson, J. G. (1990). Variability and adaptability in the genus Cebus. Folia Primatologica, 54, 114–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Freese, C. H., & Oppenheimer, J. R. (1981). The capuchin monkeys, genus Cebus.Ecology and behavior of neotropical primates, Vol. 1 pp. 331–390. Rio de Janeiro: Academia Brasileira de Ciências.Google Scholar
  26. Freitas, R. R., Rocha, P. L. B. da., & Simoes-Lopes, P. C. (2005). Habitat structure and small mammals abundances in one semiarid landscape in the Brazilian Caatinga. Revista Brasileira de Zoologia, 22, 119–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. FUMDHAM. (1998). Parque Nacional da Serra da Capivara. Fundação Museu do Homem Americano, São Raimundo Nonato.Google Scholar
  28. Gould, L., Sussman, R. W., & Sauther, M. L. (1999). Natural disasters and primate populations: The effects of a 2-year drought on a naturally occurring population of ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) in Southwestern Madagascar. International Journal of Primatology, 20, 69–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Izar, P. (2004). Female social relationships of Cebus apella nigritus in a southeastern Atlantic Forest: An analysis through ecological models of primate social evolution. Behaviour, 141, 71–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Izawa, K. (1980). Social behaviour of the wild black-capped capuchin (Cebus apella). Primates, 21, 443–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Janson, C. H. (1984). Female choice and mating system of the brown capuchin monkey Cebus apella (Primates: Cebidae). Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie, 65, 177–200.Google Scholar
  32. Janson, C. H., & Boinski, S. (1992). Morphological and behavioral adaptations for foraging in generalist primates: The case of the cebines. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 88, 483–498.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Janson, C. H., & Chapman, C. A. (1999). Resources and primate community structure.Primate communities pp. 237–267. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Janson, C. H., & Di Bitetti, M. S. (1997). Experimental analyses of food detection in capuchin monkeys: Effects of distance, travel speed and resource size. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 41, 17–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Janzen, D. H., & Schoener, T. W. (1968). Differences in insect abundance and diversity between wetter and drier sites during a tropical dry season. Ecology, 49, 96–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Koenig, A. (1995). Group size, composition, and reproductive success in wild common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus). American Journal of Primatology, 35, 311–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lacher, T. E., Fonseca, G. A. B. da, Alves, C., & Magalhaes-Castro, B. (1984). Parasitism of trees by marmoset in a central Brazilian gallery forest. Biotropica, 16, 202–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lazaro-Perea, C., Snowdon, C. T., & Arruda, M. D. (1999). Scent-marking behavior in wild groups of common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 46, 313–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Leal, I. R., Silva, J. M. C. da, Tabarelli, M., & Lacher, T. E. (2005). Changing the course of biodiversity conservation in the Caatinga of northeastern Brazil. Conservation Biology, 19, 701–706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lee, P. C., & Hauser, M. D. (1998). Long-term consequences of changes in territory quality on feeding and reproductive strategies of vervet monkeys. Journal of Animal Ecology, 67, 3347–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lehman, S. M. (2000). Primate community structure in Guyana: A biogeographic analysis. International Journal of Primatology, 21, 333–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lopes, M. A., & Ferrari, S. F. (2000). Effects of human colonization on the abundance and diversity of mammals in eastern Brazilian Amazonia. Conservation Biology, 14, 1658–1665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Machado, I. C. S., Barros, L. M., & Sampaio, E. V. S. B. (1997). Phenology of caatinga species at Serra Talhada, PE, Northeastern Brazil. Biotropica, 29, 57–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mares, M. A., Willig, M. R., & Lacher, T. E. (1985). The Brazilian Caatinga in South American zoogeography: Tropical mammals in a dry region. Journal of Biogeography, 12, 57–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Mendes Pontes, A. R. (1999). Environmental determinants of primate abundance in Maraca island, Roraima, Brazilian Amazonia. Journal of Zoology (London), 247, 189–199.Google Scholar
  46. Mendes Pontes, A. R., Normande, I. C., Fernandes, A. C. A., Ribeiro, P. F. R., & Soares, M. L. (2007). Fragmentation causes rarity in common marmosets in the Atlantic forest of northeastern Brazil. Biodiversity and Conservation, 16, 1175–1182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Michalski, F., & Peres, C. A. (2005). Anthropogenic determinants of primate and carnivore local extinctions in a fragmented forest landscape of southern Amazonia. Biological Conservation, 124, 383–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mitani, J. C., Struhsaker, T. T., & Lwanga, J. S. (2000). Primate community dynamics in old growth forest over 23.5 years at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda: Implications for conservation and census methods. International Journal of Primatology, 21, 269–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Moura, A. C. de A. (2004). The Capuchin Monkey and the Caatinga Dry Forest: A Hard Life in a Harsh Habitat. Ph.D. thesis, Cambridge: Cambridge University.Google Scholar
  50. Moura, A. C. de A., & Lee, P. C. (2004). Capuchin stone tool use in Caatinga dry forest. Science, 306, 1909.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Moura, A. C. D. A., & McConkey, K. R. (2007). The capuchin, the howler and the Caatinga forest: Seed dispersal by monkeys in a threatened Brazilian biome. American Journal of Primatology, 60, 220–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Murphy, P. G., & Lugo, A. E. (1986). Ecology of tropical dry forests. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 17, 67–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Peres, C. A. (1988). Primate community structure in western Brazilian Amazonia. Primate Conservation, 9, 83–86.Google Scholar
  54. Peres, C. A. (1993). Structure and spatial-organization of an Amazonian terra-firma forest primate community. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 9, 259–276.Google Scholar
  55. Peres, C. A. (1994). Primate response to phenological changes in an Amazonian terra firme forest. Biotropica, 26, 98–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Peres, C. A. (1997a). Primate community structure at twenty western Amazonia flooded and unflooded forests. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 13, 381–405.Google Scholar
  57. Peres, C. A. (1997b). Effects of habitat quality and hunting pressure on arboreal folivore densities in neotropical forests: A case study of howler monkeys (Alouatta spp.). Folia Primatologica, 68, 199–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Peres, C. A. (1999). General guidelines for standardizing line transect surveys of tropical forest primates. Neotropical Primates, 7, 11–16.Google Scholar
  59. Pinto, L. P. S., Costa, C. M. R., Strier, K. B., & Fonseca, G. A. (1993). Habitat, density and group size of primates in a Brazilian tropical forest. Folia Primatologica, 61, 135–143.Google Scholar
  60. Price, E. C., Piedade, H. M., & Wormell, D. (2002). Population densities of Primates in a Brazilian Atlantic forest. Folia Primatologica, 73, 54–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Reis, A. C. de S. (1976). Clima da Caatinga. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, 48, 325–335.Google Scholar
  62. Robinson, J. G., & Redford, K. H. (1986). Body size, diet, and population density of neotropical forest mammals. American Naturalist, 128, 665–680.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Rose, L. M. (1997). Vertebrate predation and food-sharing in Cebus and Pan. International Journal of Primatology, 18, 727–765.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Rylands, A. B. (1996). Habitat and the evolution of social and reproductive behavior in Callitrichidae. American Journal of Primatology, 38, 5–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Sampaio, D. T., & Ferrari, S. F. (2005). Predation of an infant titi monkey (Callicebus moloch) by a tufted capuchin (Cebus apella). Folia Primatologica, 76, 113–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Sampaio, E. V. S. (1995). Overview of the Brazilian Caatinga. Seasonally dry tropical forests (pp. 35–63). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Schaller, G. B. (1983). Mammals and their biomass on a Brazilian ranch. Archivos de Zoologia, 31, 1–36.Google Scholar
  68. Smith, R. J., & Jungers, W. (1997). Body mass in comparative primatology. Journal of Human Evolution, 32, 523–559.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Sorensen, T. C., & Fedigan, L. M. (2000). Distribution of three monkey species along a gradient of regenerating tropical dry forest. Biological Conservation, 92, 227–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Spironello, W. R. (1983). Importancia dos frutos de palmeiras (Palmae) na dieta de um grupo de Cebus apella (Cebidae, Primates) na Amazonia Central. A primatologia no Brasil, Vol. 3 (pp. 285–296). Belo Horizonte: Fundacao Biodiversitas.Google Scholar
  71. Spironello, W. R. (2001). The brown capuchin monkey (Cebus apella): Ecology and home range requirements in Central Amazonia. Lessons from Amazonia: The ecology and conservation of a fragmented forest (pp. 271–283). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Stevenson, M. F., & Rylands, A. B. (1988). The marmosets, genus Callithrix. Ecology and Behaviour of Neotropical Primates, Vol. 2 (pp. 79–129). Washington: World Wildlife Fund.Google Scholar
  73. Stevenson, P. R. (2001). The relationship between fruit production and primate abundance in neotropical communities. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 72, 161–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Terborgh, J. (1983). Five new world primates: A study in comparative ecology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Thorington, R. W., Ruiz, J. C., & Eisenberg, J. F. A. (1984). A study of a black howling monkey (Alouatta caraya) population in northern Argentina. American Journal of Primatology, 6, 357–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. van Schaik, C. P., Terborgh, J. W., & Wright, S. J. (1993). The phenology of tropical forests: Adaptive significance and consequences for primary consumers. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 24, 353–377.Google Scholar
  77. van Schaik, C. P., & van Noordwijk, M. A. (1989). The special role of male Cebus monkeys in predation avoidance and its effect on group composition. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 24, 265–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Wallace, R. B., Painter, L. E., & Taber, A. B. (1998). Primate diversity, habitat preferences, and population density estimates in Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, Santa Cruz Department, Bolivia. American Journal of Primatology, 46, 197–211.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Webb, K. E. (1974). The Changing Face of Northeast Brazil. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  80. Zhang, S. (1995). Sleeping habits of brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) in French Guiana. American Journal of Primatology, 36, 327–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Zunino, G. E., Gonzalez, V., Kowalewski, M. M., & Bravo, S. P. (2001). Alouatta caraya: Relations among habitat, density and social organization. Primate Report, 61, 37–46.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Darwin College and Department of Biological AnthropologyCambridge UniversityCambridgeU.K.
  2. 2.Laboratório Tropical de Primatologia, Departamento Sistemática e Ecologia – CCENUniversidade Federal da ParaibaJoão PessoaBrazil

Personalised recommendations