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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
Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

cognitive foraging skills conservation feeding adaptations primate density 

Notes

Acknowledgments

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.

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© 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

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