Ph.D. student, Antioch New England Graduate School
Location: Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda
Research: Seeing the Forest and the Trees: Exploring Primate Seed Dispersal and Forest Regeneration
Species/Topic: lhoest's monkey, owl-faced monkey and chimpanzee
|We will study the seed dispersal patterns created by two guenon species and the chimpanzee in the Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda. Primates are important contributors to forest processes through their seed dispersal behaviors with many fruiting species relying on primates for seed dispersal. Primates have been observed using degraded forest and may serve a critical role in forest regeneration processes by introducing seeds into otherwise seed-limited areas. This study aims to understand the ecological role of primate seed dispersal in regeneration processes and the maintenance of biodiversity. We will explore this link through the theoretical framework of dispersal and establishment limitation. Few other studies have examined the fate of seeds dispersed by Old World primates. This study is significant in its focus on three montane forest primate species that are poorly known to science; our findings will contribute to the conservation of these animals by linking their behavior to critical forest processes.
Project Update: September 2006
Reports indicate that the lhoesti monkeys are well-habituated; however the owl-faced monkeys are still quite elusive. Trackers working on the owl-faced monkeys were unable to regularly locate the group and were rarely finding feces. Observations indicate that the owl-faced monkey is not a regular consumer of fruit. In light of these findings, the objectives for this species were changed to general foraging and behavioral ecology.
Project staff received a three-day training session on project methods and data recording including the use of GPS, clinometer, compass, measuring tape and densitometer. Teams began primate day follows in the beginning of May along with opportunistic recording of fecal and orally-discarded seeds.
The lhoest's group consists of 14 individuals: 9 adults, 3 juveniles and 2 babies. The group was successfully followed 5 consecutive days, every other week from the beginning of the project. Twelve fecal samples were located containing the seeds of four large-seeded species, three of which were lianas. The majority of seeds found were small (< 5 mm) and comprised of two species: Ficus sp. and Rubus sp. The lhoest monkeys dispersed seeds in four gross habitat types: open forest, closed forest, clearings and road sides.
In contrast, the habituated chimpanzees were extremely difficult to follow. Solitary chimps or small groups (2-4 individuals) would regularly flee within the first hour of contact. PCFN employees have been tracking the chimps for several years. They indicated difficulties may have been partly due to low fruit availability in the forest during the long dry season. The project base was moved to a campsite in the forest within the chimpanzees' home-range. The camp was created to facilitate chimpanzee tracking for tourism purposes. The camp's location enables us to hear the cries of the chimpanzees early in the morning and permit us to spend longer days in the field. A total of sixty-six fecal samples were found. Forty-seven percent contained the seeds of five large seeded tree species. Myrianthus holstii and Prunus africana account for the majority of seeds found in the fecal samples. Samples contained from 1-130 seeds of the endemic species, Prunus africana. Thirty-nine percent of samples contained seeds of Ficus sp., a species indicated as a keystone resource for chimpanzees in many other forest communities. Chimpanzees primarily deposited seeds in open forest habitats (78.2%) but deposited seeds were also found in burned area and the buffer zone. The deposits confirm previous suspicions that chimps introduce seeds to regenerating areas where they may otherwise be unable to reach.