Group size in folivorous primates: ecological constraints and the possible influence of social factors
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The ecological-constraints model assumes that food items occur in depletable patches and proposes that an increase in group size leads to increased day range due to more rapid patch depletion. Smaller groups become advantageous when an increase in travel costs is not repaid by an increase in energy gained or some other fitness advantage. On the other hand, we also know that group size can be influenced by social factors. Here we contrast the diet and group size of red colobus (Procolobus badius) and black-and-white colobus (Colobus guereza) in Kibale National Park, Uganda to consider how ecological and social factors are affecting their group sizes. Subsequently, we examine whether the insights gained from this detailed comparison can provide an understanding of why the social organization and group size of mantled howlers (Alouatta palliata) and black howlers (A. pigra) differ. Two groups of red colobus and two groups of black-and-white colobus were studied over 10 months. Red colobus groups were larger (48 and 24) than black-and-white colobus groups (9 and 6). The two groups of red colobus overlap home ranges with the two groups of black-and-white colobus; 75% and 95% of their home ranges were within red colobus’s home range. There was a great deal of similarity in the plant parts eaten by the two species and both species fed primarily on young leaves (red colobus 70%, black-and-white colobus 76%). In terms of the actual species consumed, again there was a great deal of similarity between species. The average dietary overlap among months for the two neighboring groups of red colobus was 37.3%, while the dietary overlap between the red colobus and the black-and-white colobus group that had its home range almost entirely within the home range of the red colobus groups averaged 43.2% among months. If ecological conditions were responsible for the difference in group size between the two colobine species, one would expect the density of food trees to be lower in the home ranges of the black-and-white colobus monkeys, since they have the smaller group size. We found the opposite to be true. Both black-and-white colobus groups had more food trees and the cumulative size of those trees was greater than those in the red colobus’s home ranges. We quantify how these differences parallel differences in mantled and black howlers. The average group size for mantled howlers was 12.9 individuals, and for black howlers it was 5.3 individuals. We explore possible social constraints, such as infanticide, that prevent black-and-white colobus and black howlers from living in large groups.