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Determinants of Variation in Tropical Forest Primate Biomass: New Evidence from West Africa

Oates, John F., Whitesides, George H., Davies, A. Glyn, Waterman, Peter G., Green, Steven M., Dasilva, Georgina L., Mole, Silon
Ecology 1990 v.71 no.1 pp. 328-343
Primates, biomass, environmental factors, forest canopy, leaves, mineral content, monkeys, nutrients, pH, population density, proanthocyanidins, sand fraction, seeds, trees, tropical forests, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Uganda
To explore sources of variation in tropical forest primate biomass, and, in particular, to test the hypothesis that soil conditions are a major ultimate determinant of the biomass of colobine monkeys and other primates, we compared data on the soils, vegetation, and primate community at a site in West Africa (Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone) with information from other sites, especially two other African sites (Douala—Edea in Cameroon, and Kibale Forest in Uganda). The biomass of eight anthropoid primate species in old secondary high forest on Tiwai was estimated from data on population densities assessed by transect samples combined with data on social group densities and individual body masses. Samples of soil and tree foliage were collected at the same site, and subjected to a variety of chemical and mechanical analyses. Our estimate of anthropoid biomass at Tiwai is 1229—1529 kg/km², including 682—889 kg/km² of colobines. This is one of the highest primate biomasses recorded anywhere. The soils at Tiwai were found to be relatively high in sand content and low in pH, and to have low levels of mineral nutrients. Levels of condensed tannins in the mature foliage of the trees comprising a major part of the forest canopy were higher than at other sites, but the ratio of protein to fiber in this foliage was also higher than at any other site except Kibale. It is argued that a wide range of environmental factors affect primate population densities, and that nutrient—poor soils and high tannin levels in tree foliage do not necessarily produce a low primate (or colobine) biomass, as some earlier studies had suggested. Furthermore, seeds (an important food source for Tiwai colobines) are apparently a common part of the colobine dietary repertoire and are not consumed largely as a response to a scarcity of digestible foliage.