Movements of vervets (Cercopithecus aethiops) and patas monkeys (Erythrocebus patas) as estimators of food resource size, density, and distribution
The effect of food resources on behavior has been difficult to measure. Here we use animals themselves to describe “effective” food abundance and distribution by comparing, relative to where individuals stopped to eat, movements of (1) adult females living in a small group of vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops) with those living in a large group and (2) vervets and patas monkeys (Erythrocebus patas). Although females in the large vervet group travelled farther and stopped to eat more often than females in the small vervet group, these differences resulted from foraging in Acacia drepanolobium habitat. In A. xanthophloea habitat, females in the large group travelled less far, travelled shorter distances between foods, and stopped as often as females in the small group. Greater foraging costs of females in larger vervet groups may be offset by access to home ranges of better quality. Compared to patas, vervets travelled shorter distances, moved shorter distances between food sites, stopped less often, and had longer feeding bouts, suggesting that foods of vervets are denser and larger, overall, than foods of patas. When vervets foraged in A. drepanolobium habitat, also the habitat of patas, their foraging behavior became more like that of patas. Vervets travelled farther, stopped more often, and spent less time at food sites in A. drepanolobium habitat than in A. xanthophloea habitat, suggesting that foods are smaller and less usurpable in A. drepanolobium habitat. Distance between foods, a component of food distribution, did not increase, however. The critical variable underlying usurpability of foods may be food site depletion time, a temporal measure.