Terrestrial Locomotion and Other Adaptive Behaviors in Howler Monkeys (Alouatta pigra) Living in Forest Fragments

  • Juan Carlos Serio-SilvaEmail author
  • Ricarda Ramírez-Julián
  • Timothy M. Eppley
  • Colin A. Chapman


Habitat loss threatens many primate species, yet some can thrive in small forest fragments. As forest loss increases due to anthropogenic land conversion or climate change, understanding the adaptive behaviors that facilitate the use of fragments becomes critical in predicting which species will be most likely to survive. To address this issue, we quantified apparent adaptive behaviors of five groups of howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) living in small fragments located in cattle pastures in Balancán, Tabasco, Mexico. Here we report on two potentially adaptive behaviors that may facilitate their ability to survive in forest fragments: terrestrial locomotion and drinking water directly from sources, such as tree hollows. We examined associations between these behaviors and characteristics of fragment vegetation, as well as howler diet and general activity. In 1117 h of observation, 63 terrestrial events were observed, which mainly involved traveling to isolated trees. We hypothesized that larger groups would use larger areas and engage in more terrestrial locomotion because of the greater number of individuals; also larger groups might be less vulnerable to predation. However, there was no relationship between group size and the number of terrestrial events. There was a significant relationship between the cumulative distances traveled on the ground and the first principal component (PC 1) of general behavior during the dry season. Most of the 18 drinking events unexpectedly occurred in the rainy season and only 7 during dry season, and, counter to our expectation, their occurrence was not related to what plant parts were being eaten. We use this research to discuss a conservation action plan we have put in place for this howler population at a landscape level involving protected areas, education, policy development, and knowledge dissemination.


Terrestrial locomotion Forest fragments Vegetation remnants Water intake Drinking 



We are grateful to Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACyT) for the graduate studies scholarship (204435) awarded to RR-J for her master studies. The Instituto de Ecología AC (INECOL) provided the opportunity for graduate studies and a knowledge-rich environment. NSERC and CRC grants helped fund the writing stage. We thank Gilberto Pozo and Magali Bonilla for their generous support while RR-J was in Balancán. The Pozo Family and, especially, Mr. Paco Pozo and Mr. Rufino Gómez for their help with the fieldwork, and with great affection RR-J thanks Charo Mosqueda for unconditional support. Nelly Jiménez kindly assisted with plant identification and Valerie Schoof provided valuable comments on the project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juan Carlos Serio-Silva
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ricarda Ramírez-Julián
    • 2
  • Timothy M. Eppley
    • 3
  • Colin A. Chapman
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Red DE Biología y Conservación de VertebradosInstituto de Ecología A.C.VeracruzMexico
  2. 2.POSGRADO Instituto de Ecología, A.C.VeracruzMexico
  3. 3.San Diego Zoo Global – Institute for Conservation ResearchSan DiegoUSA
  4. 4.Department of AnthropologyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  5. 5.School of Life SciencesUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalScottsvilleSouth Africa
  6. 6.Shaanxi Key Laboratory for Animal ConservationNorthwest UniversityXi’anChina

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