Feeding Competition and Group Size inAlouatta pigra

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Researchers consider group size in primates to be determined by complex relationships among numerous ecological forces. Antipredator benefits and better resource defense are the primary pressures for large groups. Conversely, intragroup limited food availability, can result in greater intragroup feeding competition and individual energy expenditure in larger groups, creating energetic advantages for individuals in small groups and placing an upper limit group size. However, the extent to which food availability constrains group size remains unclear for many species, including black howlers (Alouatta pigra), which ubiquitously live in small social groups (≤10 individuals). We studied the relationship between group size and 2 key indices of feeding competition—day journey length and activity budgets—in 3 groups of wild Alouatta pigra at a hurricane-damaged site in Belize, Central America. We controlled for differences in food availability between home ranges (food tree density) and compared both indicators of feeding competition directly with temporal variation in food availability for each group. Our results show no consistent association between resource availability, group size, and either index of competition, indicating that feeding competition does not limit group size at the site—i.e., that larger groups can form without increased costs of feeding competition. The results support the search for other explanations, possibly social ones, for small group size in the primates, and we conclude with suggestions and evidence for such alternative explanations.

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