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Are "smart" frugivores more efficient foragers?

March 03, 2014

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According to some primatologists, monkeys evolved so closely alongside flowering plants that they have developed cognitive adaptations that make them better foragers than other fruiteating mammals

According to some primatologists, monkeys evolved so closely alongside flowering plants that they have developed cognitive adaptations that make them better foragers than other fruiteating mammals. Meg Crofoot doesn’t buy it.

“It’s not a hypothesis I’m particularly impressed by,” said Crofoot, a STRI research associate and professor at the University of California at Davis. “All frugivores have a long co-evolutionary history with angiosperms.”

That said, there isn’t a whole lot of data to test the hypothesis since the different methods used by specialists who study various mammals make the results nearly impossible to compare. Crofoot hopes to change this.

On Panama’s Barro Colorado Island, Crofoot proposes to look at how six different mammals forage for the fruit of Dipteryx panamensis, a massive tree common on the island. The foraging and movement strategies of capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys, coatis, agoutis, kinkajous and peccaries would be mapped in the study.

“The data could get at a whole range of questions about movement ecology and foraging strategy. Having a map of the drivers and different patterns of movement is something everybody wants but nobody has been able to figure out,” said Crofoot while following a group of capuchin monkeys around Barro Colorado Island in January. “Because we have this ecological situation here where Dipteryx is dominating the diet of so many species, it presents a unique opportunity to gain insight into what animals know about their environment and how that knowledge impacts their ability to find food efficiently.”

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