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Keywords:

  • antipredator strategies;
  • geophagy;
  • mineral licks;
  • neotropical primates;
  • temporal patterns

Abstract

Mineral licks—also known as “salados,” “saladeros,” or “collpas”—are specific sites in tropical and temperate ecosystems where a large diversity of mammals and birds come regularly to feed on soil. Although the reasons for vertebrate geophagy are not completely understood, animals are argued to obtain a variety of nutritional and health benefits from the ingestion of soil at mineral licks. We studied the temporal patterns of mineral lick use by white-bellied spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth) and red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus) in a lowland rain forest in Amazonian Ecuador. Using camera and video traps at four different mineral licks, combined with behavioral follows of one group of spider monkeys, we documented rates of mineral lick visitation by both primate species and the relative frequency and intensity of mineral lick use by spider monkeys. On the basis of 1,612 days and 888 nights of mineral lick monitoring, we found that A. belzebuth and A. seniculus both visit mineral licks frequently throughout the year (on average ∼14% of days for both species), and mineral lick visitation was influenced by short-term environmental conditions (e.g. sunny and dry weather). For spider monkeys, the area surrounding the lick was also the most frequently and most intensively used region within the group's home range. The fact that spider monkeys spent long periods at the lick area before coming to the ground to obtain soil, and the fact that both species visited the lick preferentially during dry sunny conditions (when predator detectability is presumed to be relatively high) and visited simultaneously more often than expected by chance, together suggest that licks are indeed perceived as risky areas by these primates. We suggest that howler and spider monkeys employ behavioral strategies aimed at minimizing the probability of predation while visiting the forest floor at risky mineral lick sites. Am. J. Primatol. 73:386–396, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.