Samango monkeys (Cercopithecus albogularis labiatus) manage risk in a highly seasonal, human-modified landscape in Amathole Mountains, South Africa
Nowak, K and Wimberger, K and Richards, SA and Hill, RA and le Roux, A, Samango monkeys (Cercopithecus albogularis labiatus) manage risk in a highly seasonal, human-modified landscape in Amathole Mountains, South Africa, International Journal of Primatology, 38, (2) pp. 194-206. ISSN 0164-0291 (2017) [Refereed Article]
Wild species use habitats that vary in risk across space and time. This risk can derive from natural predators and also from direct and indirect human pressures. A starving forager will often take risks that a less hungry forager would not. At a highly seasonal and human-modified site, we predicted that arboreal samango monkeys (Cercopithecus albogularis labiatus) would show highly flexible, responsive, risk-sensitive foraging. We first determined how monkeys use horizontal and vertical space across seasons to evaluate if high-risk decisions (use of gardens and ground) changed with season, a proxy for starvation risk. Then, during a subsequent winter, we offered equal feeding opportunities (in the form of high-value, raw peanuts) in both gardens and forest to see if this short-term change in food availability and starvation risk affected monkeys' foraging decisions. We found that during the food-scarce winter, monkeys foraged outside indigenous forest and in gardens, where they fed on exotic species, especially fallen acorns (Quercus spp.), despite potential threats from humans. Nevertheless, and as predicted, when given the choice of foraging on high-value foods in gardens vs. forest during our artificial foraging experiment, monkeys showed a preference for a safer forest habitat. Our experiment also indicated monkeys' sensitivity to risk in the lower vertical strata of both habitats, despite their previous extensive use of the ground. Our findings support one of the central tenets of optimal foraging theory: that risk of starvation and sensitivity to the variation in food availability can be as important drivers of behavior as risk of predation.