Anthropogenic edges impact howler monkey (Alouatta palliata) feeding behaviour in a Costa Rican rainforest

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Anthropogenic forest fragmentation impacts many aspects of animal behaviour, including feeding ecology. With forests increasingly fragmented in tropical regions due to human development, the proportion of forest edge (≤ 100 m from clear-cut regions) is higher relative to forest interior. Forest edges differ in vegetation from interior, making it important to better understand how anthropogenic edges impact the feeding behaviour of primates such as mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata). We predicted that howler monkeys would feed on higher-quality plant resources, from a larger number of tree families, and from larger trees in forest interior compared to anthropogenic forest edge. We surveyed howler monkey feeding behaviour across forest zones in a fragmented rainforest in Costa Rica, La Suerte Biological Research Station. We observed individual monkeys for 30-minute periods, collecting data on their feeding behaviour and tree use at 2-minute intervals. We measured feeding trees and recorded the plant parts and taxonomy of resources consumed. Monkeys consumed more leaves and fewer stems and fed from a smaller number of tree families in the forest interior, while they consumed fewer leaves and more stems and fed from a larger number of tree families in the forest edge. Monkeys also fed from larger, taller trees in the forest interior than the edge. The differences in howler monkey feeding behaviour between forest zones attest to the impact of human disturbance on howler monkey feeding ecology.

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