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Title: The capuchin monkey and the Caatinga dry forest : a hard life in a harsh habitat
Author: Moura, Antonio Christian de Andrade
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2005
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This thesis explores the seemingly simple problem of how a rainforest-dwelling primate, Cebus apella libidinosus, manages to survive in the Caatinga dry forest of north-eastern Brazil, a harsh habitat that poses a series of extreme ecological challenges for survival. Albeit a simple question, it unfolds into more complex questions regarding how ecological pressures might drive brain evolution and intelligence in primates. Although there is no "best" hypothesis to explain the evolutionary brain enlargement in higher primates, fine-grained analyses of ecology, such as those presented here provide insights into how different species deal with ecological problems that might require cognitive solutions. Capuchin monkeys are an ideal model for this inquiry. They occupy diverse habitats, and they have proven to be a cognitive puzzle. They are the only monkey to approach great apes in their ability to use tools, but apparently lack the prerequisite mental capability to understand cause and effect. The Caatinga dry forest poses a series of ecological challenges for mammals in general and primates in particular, and these are detailed in this thesis. This is the first general study of mammalian abundance and distribution in Caatinga habitats, with special reference to Cebus. I present several innovative methods for assessing plant and invertebrate biodiversity, as regards foods for the Cebus. The study population of capuchin monkeys faced more frequent and longer periods of food scarcity than does any other known capuchin population. However, the Cebus in the Caatinga circumvent the ecological constraints of low plant food availability through their proficient foraging style (destructive foraging) and through their cognitive abilities, reflected in this population's extensive and intelligent use of technology. I suggest that Old World monkeys and capuchin monkeys have undergone differential selective pressures, with 'Machiavellian intelligence' being a more prominent aspect in the brain evolution of baboons and macaques, while extractive foraging was a more important selective pressure for capuchin monkeys. The evolutionary brain enlargement observed in hominids is suggested to be a legacy of extractive foraging and that capuchin monkeys are excellent models for understanding the factors leading to brain enlargement. This thesis is concluded as an endeavour into understanding the selective forces and concatenation of events that culminated with the evolutionary brain enlargement seen in the hominins.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Capuchin monkeys--Brazil