, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 341-356
Date: 27 Apr 2007

Experimental evidence for route integration and strategic planning in wild capuchin monkeys

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Abstract

Both in captivity and the wild, primates are found to travel mostly to the nearest available resource, but they may skip over the closest resource and travel to more distant resources, which are often found to be more productive. This study examines the tradeoff between distance and reward in the foraging choices of one group of wild capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella nigritus) using feeding platforms in large-scale foraging experiments conducted over four years. Three feeding sites were arrayed in an oblique triangle, such that once the monkey group had chosen one site to feed, they had a choice between two remaining sites, a close one with less food and the other up to 2.3 times as far away but with more food. Sites were provisioned once per day. The capuchins generally chose the closer feeding site, even when the more distant site offered up to 12 times as much food. The distances to, rewards of, or various profitability measures applied to each alternative site individually did not explain the group’s choices in ways consistent with foraging theory or principles of operant psychology. The group’s site choices were predicted only by comparing efficiency measures of entire foraging pathways: (1) direct travel to the more rewarding distant site, versus (2) the longer ‘detour’ through the closer site on the way to the more distant one. The group chose the detour more often when the reward was larger and the added detour distance shorter. They appeared to be more sensitive to the absolute increase in detour distance than to the relative increase compared to the straight route. The qualitative and quantitative results agree with a simple rule: do not use the detour unless the energy gain from extra food outweighs the energy cost of extra travel. These results suggest that members of this group integrate information on spatial location, reward, and perhaps potential food competition in their choice of multi-site foraging routes, with important implications for social foraging.

This contribution is part of the special issue “ A Socioecological Perspective on Primate Cognition” (Cunningham and Janson 2007b).