Primates in Fragments: Complexity and Resilience

Primates in Fragments: Complexity and Resilience

Primate Populations in Fragmented Tropical Dry Forest Landscapes in Southwestern Nicaragua

The lack of information on how primates respond to habitat fragmentation across a variety of ecosystems and regions hampers conservation efforts in the fragmented landscapes where populations are most threatened.

We investigated the status of primates in the highly fragmented forests of southwestern Nicaragua, a region containing some of Central America’s few remaining patches of tropical dry forest. We surveyed primates in two areas, the Chococente Wildlife Refuge comprising the country’s largest remaining fragments of tropical dry forest, and an area of Rivas just north of the Costa Rican border, where tropical dry forest exists in much smaller, more isolated patches without formal protection.

Of the three species found in Nicaragua, howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata) were least affected by fragmentation remaining relatively abundant in both areas. However, capuchins (Cebus capucinus) and spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) were far less abundant and have suffered local extinctions both inside and outside of protected areas. Interestingly, our data suggest that all three species are currently least threatened in the human-dominated landscape on the Rivas Isthmus, the more fragmented study region where forests receive no official protection.

In spite of extensive fragmentation, southwestern Nicaragua’s remaining tropical dry forests may maintain a functioning metapopulation of primates, including populations of the endangered spider monkey. However, reasons why the endangered spider monkey is more common in the more fragmented region are unclear. Our results demonstrate both the surprising ability of primates to survive in highly modified landscapes, and the critical importance of coordinating conservation efforts with private landowners, local communities, and other stakeholders.

Planning for primate conservation in such anthropogenic landscapes must consider historical factors and larger spatial context. In Nicaragua, the local NGO Paso Pacífico has adopted the spider monkey as a flagship species, and is working extensively with landowners and local communities to conserve this species and the forest fragments in which it lives.

Chapter authors are Paso Pacífico’s:

Director of Science Kimberly Williams-Guillén
Collaborator Suzanne Hagell
Founder Sarah Otterstrom
Collaborator Stephanie Spehar

You can download the full chapter here

Read more about the black-handed spider monkey on our website.

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