Female red colobus monkeys maintain their densities through flexible feeding strategies in logged forests in Kibale National Park, Uganda.


Behavioral flexibility allows primates to cope with environmental variability. Quantifying primate responses to human habitat modifications allows an effective means of assessing coping mechanisms. Within Kibale National Park, Uganda, logging led to reduced primate food availability that still exists almost 50 years after the harvest. Following the predictions of the ideal free distribution theory, primate densities are expected to decrease in areas of lower resource availability so that the resources available per individual are equivalent in logged and old-growth areas. However, counter to what would be predicted by the ideal free distribution theory, red colobus monkeys (Procolobus rufomitratus) occur at similar densities in logged and old-growth areas of Kibale. This suggests that either the ecological differences between the two areas are not sufficient to impact red colobus densities or that animals in logged areas are compensating to changes in resource availability by using different foraging strategies. To test between these hypotheses, we examined four groups of red colobus, two in logged and two in old-growth forests, and compared feeding behavior, feeding tree size, and tree productivity. Females in logged areas fed on resources from a greater number of plant species, fed on fewer resources from each species, and spent more time feeding than those in old-growth areas. By expanding their diet, females in logged areas effectively increased the resources available to them, which may contribute to their ability to maintain similar densities to females in old-growth areas. These findings have implications for an evolutionary understanding of how species deal with environmental change and considerations for conservation practices that determine what areas should be prioritized for protection.

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