Tree Climbing Strategies for Primate Ecological Studies

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Primate ecological studies can benefit from accessing the canopy to estimate intra-tree and inter-tree variation in food availability and nutrient value, patch and subpatch depletion, foraging efficiency, as well as nest structure and nesting behaviors, parasitic transmission and predator detectability. We compare several ways to access the canopy and examine their suitability for studies of primates. Two of them—the Single Rope Technique and the Climbing Spur Method—allow people to safely access almost all kinds of trees, regardless of their size, height or shape. Modern climbing gear and contemporaneous safety protocols, derived from rock climbers, speleologists, and industrial arborists, are reliable and appropriate for primate ecological studies. Climbing gear is specialized and still expensive for students, but tree climbing can be dangerous during specific maneuvres. Consequently, formal training and preliminary experience are essential before attempting to collect data. We discuss the physics of falling, risk assessment associated with a fall, knots, gear and safety precautions. Finally, we propose a Tree Climbing Safety Protocol adapted for 2 climbing methods and primate field ecology. Researchers should be aware that climbing safety depends on their own judgment, which must be based on competent instruction, experience, and a realistic assessment of climbing ability. Therefore, the information we provide should be used only to supplement competent personal instruction and training in situ. Although most primate observations have been and will mostly be done from the ground in the future, canopy information complements the observations. Canopy data will add a significant new dimension to our knowledge of primates by providing strategic information otherwise unavailable.

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