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Resource availability and habitat use by mantled howling monkeys in a Nicaraguan coffee plantation: can agroforests serve as core habitat for a forest mammal?


Kimberly Williams-Guillén. Current address: University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and Environment, 3541 Dana Building, 440 Church Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1041, USA.


Although shade coffee plantations are potentially valuable habitats for wildlife conservation, little information exists on the extent to which they provide resident wildlife populations with resources necessary for survival and reproduction. A 14-month study of the ecology of mantled howling monkeys Alouatta palliata living in a Nicaraguan shade coffee plantation was therefore conducted. Trees were surveyed at randomly located enumeration points in the coffee plantation and monitored for phenophase production to characterize resource availability. Day-long focal animal follows were used to characterize the ranging and habitat preferences of the howlers. The study site had a diverse canopy, with over 60 tree species providing shade for coffee cultivation; high tree diversity ensured year-round availability of the howlers' preferred foods. Howlers did not avoid feeding or ranging in areas of shade coffee cultivation. However, when foraging in coffee they favored large shade trees for feeding and were less likely to use areas of shade coffee with small trees and fewer arboreal pathways. Results suggest, in conjunction with controls on hunting and protection of nearby forests, that shade coffee can serve as alternate wildlife habitat and corridors between forest fragments for howling monkeys and possibly other forest mammals. Specific management recommendations to improve the conservation value of shade coffee for primates are made and the potential role of coffee plantations in primate conservation at a regional scale are discussed.