The ecological role of the callitrichidae: A review



The marmosets and tamarins fill a unique ecological role among the anthropoid primates, one that has not been fully recognized. Many misconceptions—that they are primitive, monogamous, territorial, and squirrellike—pervade the literature. These misconceptions are largely the result of misinterpreting laboratory studies which have not been confirmed with identified animals in natural habitats. Recent field studies, reviewed here, indicate that marmosets and tamarins have a highly derived ecological role, are not monogamous, feed largely on insects and plant exudates, and have uniquely specialized positional behavior involving clinging to vertical tree trunks in order to feed on exudates. Accompanying these behavioral traits are a number of derived morphological features such as small body size, tendency to twin, clawlike nails on all digits except the hallux, and a three-cusped upper molar morphology. These form a suite of characteristics unique among the living primates, many of which are related to their ecological role. We believe that the marmosets and tamarins are members of a guild of exudate feeders in which plant exudates are an important component of the diet. It is within this framework of a primate foraging guild that we can best understand many of their morphological and behavioral adaptations.