Patterns of subgrouping and spatial affiliation in a community of mantled howling monkeys (Alouatta palliata)

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Abstract

Studies of social affiliation and social spacing offer important insight into the dynamics of subgroup formation and social strategies in living primates. Among the 11 species in the genus Alouatta, mantled howlers (A. palliata) are the only species to consistently form large, stable social groups composed of several adult males and several adult females. In this study, we examine patterns of subgrouping, activity, and partner preferences in a troop of 26–29 wild mantled howling monkeys (including 12–13 marked individuals) inhabiting Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua. During two study seasons in 2000 and 2001, we simultaneously monitored the size, composition, and activities of individuals in two to three different subgroups. A half-weight association index was used to calculate partner preferences and patterns of spatial association. Results indicate that our howler study troop fragmented into subgroups of 1–20 with subgroups averaging five and six individuals. Subgroup size and membership reflected individual patterns of social affiliation and social tolerance, and in general remained consistent across activities and from year to year. We also found evidence of cliques or social networks of three to four individuals embedded within larger subgroups. A small number of adult males appeared to play an important social role as the nucleus of clique formation. We argue that the persistence of strong male–male and male–female partner preferences in mantled howlers helps to explain the stability of relatively large multimale–multifemale groups. Am. J. Primatol. 70:282–293, 2008. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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