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Behavioral flexibility of vervet monkeys in response to climatic and social variability

Authors

  • Richard McFarland,

    Corresponding author
    1. Brain Function Research Group, School of Physiology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
    • Correspondence to: R. McFarland, School of Physiology, University of the Witwatersrand, 7 York Road, Medical School, Parktown, Johannesburg 2193, South Africa. E-mail: richard.mcfarland@wits.ac.za

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  • Louise Barrett,

    1. Brain Function Research Group, School of Physiology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
    2. Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Canada
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  • Ria Boner,

    1. Applied Behavioural Ecology and Ecosystem Research Unit, University of South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa
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  • Natalie J. Freeman,

    1. Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Canada
    2. Applied Behavioural Ecology and Ecosystem Research Unit, University of South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa
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  • S. Peter Henzi

    1. Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Canada
    2. Applied Behavioural Ecology and Ecosystem Research Unit, University of South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa
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ABSTRACT

Responses to environmental variability sheds light on how individuals are able to survive in a particular habitat and provides an indication of the scope and limits of its niche. To understand whether climate has a direct impact on activity, and determine whether vervet monkeys have the behavioral flexibility to respond to environmental change, we examined whether the amount of time spent resting and feeding in the nonmating and mating seasons were predicted by the thermal and energetic constraints of ambient temperature. Our results show that high temperatures during the nonmating season were associated with an increase in time spent resting, at the expense of feeding. Cold temperatures during the nonmating season were associated with an increase in time spent feeding, at the expense of resting. In contrast, both feeding and resting time during the mating season were independent of temperature, suggesting that animals were not adjusting their activity in relation to temperature during this period. Our data indicate that climate has a direct effect on animal activity, and that animals may be thermally and energetically compromised in the mating season. Our study animals appear to have the behavioral flexibility to tolerate current environmental variability. However, future climate change scenarios predict that the time an animal has available for behaviors critical for survival will be constrained by temperature. Further investigations, aimed at determining the degree of behavioral and physiological flexibility displayed by primates, are needed if we are to fully understand the consequences of environmental change on their distribution and survival. Am J Phys Anthropol 154:357–364, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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