Forest fragmentation and wild primates in Mexico


Estación de Biología "Los Tuxtlas", Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México


Conservation studies have been concerned with the consequences of habitat loss and fragmentation on the viability of primate populations in southern Mexico. Such landscape changes are not only typical of Mexico, but also of the rest of Latin American rainforests. Significant declines in populations of howler and spider monkeys have been determined for some regions of southern Mexico, as the graph shows.

Our studies of forest fragmentation are aimed at documenting and evaluating the demographic and behavioral responses of primate population to fragmentation of their habitats and diminished resources. Here we use a landscape perspective to create descriptive and predictive models of how such changes are taking place and the route that they follow and to envision possible conservation scenarios.

Our studies focus on three types of landscape scenartios, where effects of, for example, area and isolation, on primate populations can be ascertained, while at the same time we are able to examine aspects of various types of landmanagement systems and their impact on primate conservation.

This approach has led us to investigate the value of certain types of agroecosystems for sustaining primate populations, as is the case of cacao, coffee and mixed plantations shaded with rain forest vegetation or by trees planted by local farmers (see "Primates in agroecosystems" in front page).

Land management system of tropical land resulting in primate habitat disappearance. How primate species respond to the process of fragmentation and isolation of their habitats and how can the final stage of this process be avoided while considering the needs of the local human inhabitants, are two important questions bearing upon our research.

Alternative systems of land management of tropical land may allow for the conservation of remaining forest fragments and the reduction of isolating distance through the establishment of anthropogenic vegetation such as corridors, live fences and/or arboreal crops.

Hunting and traffic of infants as pets are two important pressures on wild population that become exacerbated as a result of habitat fragmentation.

Recently we have addressed the issue of traffic of infants as pets. Both spider and howler monkey infants are attractive to people as animal pets. The illegal pet trade is, with habitat loss, an mportant cause of declines in primate populations in Mexico. The larger cities in the country are important markets for this kind of wildife. A recent survey in Mexico City, showed that infantes of spider and of the two howler monkeys existing in Mexico are the most frequent primate pets, accounting for 83% of primate pets in our surveys (8 other primate species not native to Mexico were also detected as pets; see Duarte & Estrada, 2003 Am. J. Primatol 61:53-60). Primate pets are treated in varying ways by their owners, but in all cases the ultimate fate of the pet as an adult is uncertain.

At Los Tuxtlas rehabilitation of spider and howler monkey infants have been carried out with success, over the last 10 years or so, by using dogs as surrogate mothers.


The results of these studies can be found in the list of publications of the primate laboratory activating the link "publications of this laboratory" in the main page.

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Copyright @ 2004 Alejandro Estrada

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