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Keywords:

  • population density;
  • food sources;
  • fragment size;
  • Neotropical primates

Abstract

Accelerated deforestation is causing the rapid loss and fragmentation of primary habitat for primates. Although the genus Alouatta is one of the most studied primate taxa under these circumstances, some results are contradictory and responses of howlers to habitat fragmentation are not yet clear. In this paper, we conduct a cross-study of the available researches on mantled howlers (Alouatta palliata) in forest fragments in Los Tuxtlas, Mexico, to (1) describe the diet and activity pattern of howlers; (2) analyze the similarity in the diet across studies; and (3) relate both fragment size and howler population density with different characteristics of their diet, home range size, and activity pattern. Howlers consumed 181 plant species belonging to 54 families. Ficus was the most important taxa in the howlers' diet, followed by primary species such as Pterocarpus rohrii, Nectandra ambigens, Poulsenia armata, and Brosimum alicastrum. Secondary and non-secondary light-demanding plant species, which are representatives of disturbed habitat, contributed with a high percentage of their feeding time. Only 23% of the species consumed were the same across all the studies, suggesting that howlers adapt their diet to the food availability of their respective habitats. Population density is the best predictor of howlers' ecological and behavioral changes in response to forest fragmentation, probably owing to its relationship with food availability. Howlers respond to the increase in population densities by increasing the (1) diversity of food species in the diet; (2) consumption of non-tree growth forms; and (3) consumption of new plant items. Home range size is also predicted by population density, but fragment size is a better predictor, probably owing to the fact that howler groups can overlap their home ranges. Our results emphasize the importance of conserving the larger fragments and increasing the size of small and medium-sized ones. Am. J. Primatol. 69:1013–1029, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.