oa Koedoe : African Protected Area Conservation and Science - Population ecology of vervet monkeys in a high latitude, semi-arid riparian woodland : original research



Narrow riparian woodlands along non-perennial streams have made it possible for vervet monkeys to penetrate the semi-arid karoo ecosystem of South Africa, whilst artificial water points have more recently allowed these populations to colonize much more marginal habitat away from natural water sources. In order to better understand the sequelae of life in these narrow, linear woodlands for historically 'natural' populations and to test the prediction that they are ecologically stressed, we determined the size of troops in relation to their reliance on natural and artificial water sources and collected detailed data from two river-centred troops on activity, diet and ranging behaviour over an annual cycle. In comparison to other populations, our data indicate that river-centred troops in the karoo were distinctive primarily both for their large group sizes and, consequently, their large adult cohorts, and in the extent of home range overlap in what is regarded as a territorial species. Whilst large group size carried the corollary of increased day journey length and longer estimated interbirth intervals, there was little other indication of the effects of ecological stress on factors such as body weight and foraging effort. We argue that this was a consequence of the high density of Acacia karroo, which accounted for a third of annual foraging effort in what was a relatively depauperate floristic habitat. We ascribed the large group size and home range overlap to constraints on group fission.

The distribution of group sizes, sampled appropriately across habitats within a conservation area, will be of more relevance to management than average values, which may be nothing more than a statistical artefact, especially when troop sizes are bimodally distributed.


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