, Volume 26, Issue 5, pp 1107-1135

Foraging, Food Choice, and Food Processing by Sympatric Ripe-Fruit Specialists: Lagothrix lagotricha poeppigii and Ateles belzebuth belzebuth

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Abstract

Studies of interspecific competition and niche separation have formed some of the seminal works of ecology. I conducted an 18-mo study comparing the feeding ecologies of 2 sympatric, closely-related ripe-fruit specialists, Humboldt's woolly monkeys (Lagothrix lagotricha poeppigii), and the white-bellied spider monkeys (Ateles belzebuth belzebuth) in Amazonian Ecuador. Woolly monkeys in the terra firme forest live at roughly triple the density of spider monkeys (31 versus 11.5 animals/km2). Woolly monkeys spend 17% of their time foraging, while spider monkeys spend only 1% of their time foraging. Spider monkeys alone fed on soil and termitaria, which are rich in phosphorus. Woolly monkeys are not hard-fruit specialists. Their fruit diet is significantly more diverse than that of spider monkeys. Dietary overlap between the 2 species is high, yet each specializes to some degree on a different set of fruit resources. Woolly monkeys visit more food sources per unit of time, feed lower in the canopy, visit more small food patches, and prey on more seeds. Spider monkeys feed on fewer, richer food sources and are more than twice as likely to return to a particular fruit source than woolly monkeys are. Spider monkeys maximize fruit pulp intake, carrying more intact seeds in their guts, while woolly monkeys minimize seed bulk swallowed through more careful food processing. Surprisingly, several preferred spider monkey foods with high fat content and large seeds are avoided by woolly monkeys. I outline the different ecological dimensions involved in niche separation between the 2 species and discuss the possible impetus for their evolutionary divergence.