Seasonal Changes in Socio-Spatial Structure in a Group of Free-Living Spider Monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi).


Ecological and social factors influence individual movement and group membership decisions, which ultimately determine how animal groups adjust their behavior in spatially and temporally heterogeneous environments. The mechanisms behind these behavioral adjustments can be better understood by studying the relationship between association and space use patterns of groups and how these change over time. We examined the socio-spatial patterns of adult individuals in a free-ranging group of spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi), a species with high fission-fusion dynamics. Data comprised 4916 subgroup scans collected during 325 days throughout a 20-month period and was used to evaluate changes from fruit-scarce to fruit-abundant periods in individual core-area size, subgroup size and two types of association measures: spatial (core-area overlap) and spatio-temporal (occurrence in the same subgroup) associations. We developed a 3-level analysis framework to distinguish passive associations, where individuals are mostly brought together by resources of common interest, from active association, where individuals actively seek or avoid certain others. Results indicated a more concentrated use of space, increased individual gregariousness and higher spatio-temporal association rates in the fruit-abundant seasons, as is compatible with an increase in passive associations. Nevertheless, results also suggested active associations in all the periods analyzed, although associations differed across seasons. In particular, females seem to actively avoid males, perhaps prompted by an increased probability of random encounters among individuals, resulting from the contraction of individual core areas. Our framework proved useful in investigating the interplay between ecological and social constraints and how these constraints can influence individual ranging and grouping decisions in spider monkeys, and possibly other species with high fission-fusion dynamics.

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