Initiation of feeding by four sympatric Neotropical primates (Ateles belzebuth, Lagothrix lagotricha poeppigii, Plecturocebus (Callicebus) discolor, and Pithecia aequatorialis) in Amazonian Ecuador: Relationships to photic and ecological factors

We examined photic and ecological factors related to initiation of feeding by four sympatric primates in the rain forest of Amazonian Ecuador. With rare exceptions, morning activities of all taxa began only after the onset of nautical twilight, which occurred 47–48 min before sunrise. The larger spider and woolly monkeys, Ateles belzebuth and Lagothrix lagotricha poeppigii, left their sleeping trees before sunrise about half the time, while the smaller sakis and titi monkeys, Pithecia aequatorialis and Plecturocebus (formerly Callicebus) discolor, did not emerge until sunrise or later. None of the four taxa routinely began feeding before sunrise. Pithecia began feeding a median 2.17 h after sunrise, at least 0.8 h later than the median feeding times of the other three taxa. The early movement of Ateles and Lagothrix, and late initiation of feeding by Pithecia are consistent with temporal niche partitioning. Among most New World primate species, all males and many females, have dichromatic color vision, with only two cone photopigments, while some females are trichromats with three cone photopigments. Current evidence indicates that the dichromats have a foraging advantage in dim light, which could facilitate utilization of twilight periods and contribute to temporal niche partitioning. However, in our study, dichromatic males did not differentially exploit the dim light of twilight, and times of first feeding bouts of female Ateles and Lagothrix were similar to those of males. First feeding bouts followed a seasonal pattern, occurring latest in May-August, when ripe fruit abundance and ambient temperature were both relatively low. The most frugivorous taxon, Ateles, exhibited the greatest seasonality, initiating feeding 1.4 h later in May-August than in January-April. This pattern may imply a strategy of conserving energy when ripe fruit is scarcer, but starting earlier to compete successfully when fruit is more abundant. Lower temperatures were associated with later feeding of Ateles (by 26 min / °C) and perhaps Pithecia, but not Lagothrix or Plecturocebus. The potential for modification of temporal activity patterns and temporal niche partitioning by relatively small changes in temperature should be considered when predicting the effects of climate change.