Highly nested diets in intrapopulation monkey–resource food webs



Recently several studies have focused on the structure of ecological networks to provide insights into ecological and coevolutionary dynamics of interacting species. However, rarely have the tools of ecological networks been used to understand how feeding relationships vary among individuals of the same population. Here we use 7 years of data and network analyzed to examine the intrapopulation diet variation in a group of howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata). We show that individual monkey–resource food webs are nested, but not modular and the stability of these patterns is independent of time of day or season. Our findings indicated that individuals do not forage randomly when compared to null models and that the diets of more selective monkeys represent subsets of the diets of other individuals. Moreover, there are no subgroups that eat a particular set of available plant species more frequently than other sets, suggesting that the spatial strategy of group foraging plays an important role in the feeding ecology of each group given that individuals of the same group tend to share similar resources while the group remains at a feeding site. Since the diets of more selective individuals are a subset of other monkeys, we suggest that more selective monkeys are able to outcompete others for preferred foods. Additionally, we did not observe differences in nutritional content or spatial abundance of more frequently eaten plant species when compared with less frequently eaten species, but in most cases, the more frequently eaten plant species were Ficus (Moraceae). This reinforces the important role that Ficus trees play in howler monkey feeding ecology, likely due to its year-round availability. Am. J. Primatol. 76:670–678, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.