, Volume 63, Issue 5, pp 649-659
Date: 14 Jan 2009

Fissioning minimizes ranging costs in spider monkeys: a multiple-level approach

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The adjustment to deal with intragroup food competition is probably the most plausible explanation of high levels of fission–fusion dynamics. However, studies did not always support expected relations between food availability, ranging costs, and subgroup size. We used several levels of analysis differing in the time and spatial scale in order to investigate this explanation in spider monkeys. In our study, subgroups were larger when food availability was higher across most levels of analyses used. We also found a fine-scale adjustment: compared to the food patch previously visited, spider monkeys traveled to larger patches just after fusions. This was not without an immediate travel cost: the interpatch distance and travel time after a fusion were longer than that before the fusion. This rapid adjustment shows the flexibility that fission–fusion dynamics can offer. Spider monkeys are in large subgroups only when food conditions are favorable, as evidenced by the fact that at all the other time-scale levels larger subgroups did not experience greater ranging costs than smaller subgroups. Our results indicate that on the whole spider monkeys successfully minimize ranging costs by fission and fusion of subgroups.