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article imageSeed munching monkeys aid forest regrowth

By Tim Sandle     Dec 16, 2014 in Environment
The dispersal of tree seeds by New World primates is essential for the continuation and regeneration of the world’s forests, according to new research between primatologists and plant geneticists.
A new study has been performed based on field research at the DPZ-field station Estación Biológica Quebrada Blanco in the Peruvian Amazonian lowlands. Here researchers have observed how feeding, sleeping, and ranging habits of two species of New World monkeys is linked with the dispersal of the neotropical legume tree Parkia panurensis.
The research shows that primates can influence seed dispersal and spatial genetic kinship structure of plants that serve as their food source.
For their study the biologists studied a group of Brown-mantled tamarins (Saguinus nigrifrons) and Moustached tamarins (Saguinus mystax). Both of these species of monkey spend considerable time looking for edible plants such as Parkia trees. Parkia biglobosa, commonly known as the locust bean tree, African locust bean or néré is found in a wide range of environments in Africa and is primarily grown for its pods that contain both a sweet pulp and valuable seeds.
Fruits from Parkia trees are small pods that contain 16 to 23 seeds. Each seed is surrounded by edible gum. The monkeys feed on the gum and also swallow the Parkia seeds. Later, the seeds are defecated intact in a different area. This process helps new trees to grow and is essential for the regeneration of the forest.
All of this is well established. What is of interest is that during observation sessions researchers noted the location of the Parkia trees. They also collected faecal samples of the tamarins that contained seeds. Using DNA analysis the researchers were able to pinpoint the corresponding "mother tree" for the seeds. This analysis meant that the researchers could determine how far Parkia seeds were dispersed by the monkeys.
This research showed that the typical radius is 300 meters. This knowledge will help with rainforest conservation and dispersing monkey populations to help sustain spaces. Fruit-eating primates like tamarins are essential to the natural regeneration and diversity of trees.
The research has been published in the journal Trees and it is titled “Primate seed dispersal leaves spatial genetic imprint throughout subsequent life stages of the Neotropical tree Parkia panurensis.”
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