Journal of Tropical Ecology

Seed dispersal by spider monkeys and its importance in the maintenance of neotropical rain-forest diversity

Andres Link a1a2c1 and Anthony Di Fiore a1a2
a1 Department of Anthropology, New York University, 25 Waverley Place, New York, NY 10003, USA
a2 New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology (NYCEP), USA

Article author query
link a   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
di fiore a   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Seed dispersal by frugivores is thought to play an important role in the maintenance of tropical forest diversity. Spider monkeys (Ateles spp.) are amongst the most frugivorous primates known, and they incorporate a diverse array of fruit species in their diets. In a 1-y study in lowland Ecuador, 670 h of focal observations and data on 916 faecal depositions were collected, and these data are used to describe the seed dispersal patterns of one group of wild spider monkeys (Ateles belzebuth) in terms of both the quantity of seeds dispersed and the primary seed shadows generated. Spider monkeys fed on the fruits of at least 152 plant species and swallowed seeds from more than 98% of these. Collected faecal samples contained seeds from at least 133 different plant species, with an average of 1.9 species (range: 0–7) per defecation. Individual spider monkeys dispersed a minimum of [similar]195 000 seeds >1 mm in diameter per year, [similar]35 000 of which were >3 mm in diameter. Mean retention time for seeds was 4.5 h. Seed dispersal distances averaged 443 m, but some seeds were moved >1250 m away from parental sources. These results suggest that declines in populations of spider monkeys might have a direct effect on forest dynamics, especially if other disperser species cannot compensate for their lost ecological services.

(Accepted October 25 2005)

Key Words: Ateles belzebuth; dispersal distance; Ecuador; primates; retention time; seed dispersal; seed shadows; spider monkeys.

c1 Corresponding author. Email: