Responses of squirrel monkeys to seasonal changes in food availability in an eastern Amazonian forest


  • Anita I. Stone

    Corresponding author
    1. Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois
    2. Department of Psychology, University of California, Davis, CA
    • Department of Psychology, University of California at Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616
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Tropical forests are characterized by marked temporal and spatial variation in productivity, and many primates face foraging problems associated with seasonal shifts in fruit availability. In this study, I examined seasonal changes in diet and foraging behaviors of two groups of squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus), studied for 12 months in Eastern Brazilian Amazonia, an area characterized by seasonal rainfall. Squirrel monkeys were primarily insectivorous (79% of feeding and foraging time), with fruit consumption highest during the rainy season. Although monkeys fed from 68 plant species, fruit of Attalea maripa palms accounted for 28% of annual fruit-feeding records. Dietary shifts in the dry season were correlated with a decline in ripe A. maripa fruits. Despite pronounced seasonal variation in rainfall and fruit abundance, foraging efficiency, travel time, and distance traveled remained stable between seasons. Instead, squirrel monkeys at this Eastern Amazonian site primarily dealt with the seasonal decline in fruit by showing dietary flexibility. Consumption of insects, flowers, and exudates increased during the dry season. In particular, their foraging behavior at this time strongly resembled that of tamarins (Saguinus sp.) and consisted of heavy use of seed-pod exudates and specialized foraging on large-bodied orthopterans near the forest floor. Comparisons with squirrel monkeys at other locations indicate that, across their geographic range, Saimiri use a variety of behavioral tactics during reduced periods of fruit availability. Am. J. Primatol. 69:1–16, 2007. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.