This project will document and explain the feeding ecology, ranging behavior, activity patterns, and group structure of mantled howling monkeys (Alouatta palliata) that live in shade coffee plantations. Our results will allow us to both make valuable contributions to the understanding of how habitat affects primate ecology and social structure, as well as to develop plans for primate conservation that successfully incorporate economic development in habitat countries.
Coffee cultivation has not resulted in widespread destruction of Latin America's forest ecosystems because coffee generally grows best when shaded from direct sunlight by trees. Forest trees are therefore left standing to shelter the coffee; such plantations are known as shade coffee. Although they differ from undisturbed forest in tree species composition and density, shade coffee plantations account for a significant portion of forested areas in Latin America, and provide habitat for birds and other forest animals.
The researchers will conduct a 15-month study of howling monkeys that live in shade coffee plantations on Mombacho Volcano, southwestern Nicaragua. They will collect approximately 1500 hours of detailed observational data on three groups of howlers that will detail their feeding ecology, ranging behavior, and activity patters. Along with detailed data on the vegetation in the plantation, these data will allow them to determine which tree species and habitat features are vital to the survival of monkeys in coffee plantations. These data will also allow the researchers to explore theoretical issues regarding the effects of plant food abundance and diversity on primate foraging strategies. Ultimately, they hope to use these data to create a certification program for "eco-friendly" coffee using the howling monkey as an indicator species and focus for creating community support for wildlife conservation in agricultural lands, within and beyond Nicaragua.