, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 759-783

Tropical rain forest fragmentation and wild populations of primates at Los Tuxtlas, Mexico

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Abstract

In view of the extensive destruction, fragmentation, and conversion of primate habitats to anthropogenic vegetation, information on Neotropical primate ability to use a landscape consisting of forest fragments and agricultural habitats is necessary to understand the ecological flexibility of the species involved and it is of relevance to the design of conservation scenarios at the landscape level. We censused howlers and spider monkeys in 126 forest fragments and in 44 agricultural sites at Los Tuxtlas, southern Veracruz, Mexico, and used the IDRISI Geographic Information System to assess the extent of primate habitat remaining. We conducted economic surveys to assess the productivity of several systems of land management, including cattle ranching. Seventy- five percent of native habitat has been lost at Los Tuxtlas, 20% remains in the form of isolated fragments of vegetation, and only 5% consists of contiguous rain forest at high elevations (> 800 m). Howlers and spider monkeys were present in only 60 and 8% of the forest sites investigated, respectively, attesting to extensive local extinction. Populations of both species are small and found in a fragmented and isolated condition throughout the landscape. A large number of howlers were detected in artifactual habitats such as cacao, coffee and mixed (cacao and coffee) plantations shaded by rain forest trees. Residual rain forest vegetation along streams, rivers, and lakes facilitated the interfragment and interhabitat movement of howlers. Economic surveys showed that some of the agricultural habitats were more productive than cattle ranching. Conservation of spider monkeys requires large areas of contiguous forest, but only small areas are present at high elevations. Howlers are restricted to elevations < 800 m, where most of the forest has disappeared, but can apparently exist in a matrix of forest fragments, arboreal agricultural habitats, and pasture lands. Structural aspects of the vegetation and connectivity among habitat islands may be indispensable components of both landscape scenarios.