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Abstract

The ‘ecological risk aversion hypothesis’ [C.H. Janson and C.P. van Schaik, Juvenile Primates, Oxford Univ. Press, New York (1993), pp. 57–74] proposes that the pattern of slow growth characteristic of juvenile primates is a response to ecological risks (predation and starvation) experienced by juveniles. Juveniles are thought to avoid predation risk by positioning themselves near conspecifics, therefore experiencing high levels of feeding competition with older individuals, reduced access to resources and, consequently, high starvation risks during periods of food scarcity. The present study compared the foraging behaviors of juvenile and adult squirrel monkeys, a small neotropical primate characterized by a long juvenile period, to determine how predation and starvation risks affected juvenile behaviors. The study was conducted in Eastern Amazonia, in a seasonal environment. Due to their slow development, small body size and large group sizes, it was expected that juveniles in this species would behave in a manner consistent with the risk aversion hypothesis. However, age differences in foraging efficiency and foraging success were smaller than predicted. There was also no evidence that juveniles sacrificed access to food for predator protection. Adults did not have preferential access to fruit patches and direct competition was rare. Feeding competition for prey, the most common resource in the troop's diet, was negligible. Therefore, the slow growth and long juvenile period of squirrel monkeys do not correspond with evidence of predation or starvation risk, as predicted by the risk aversion hypothesis.