The role of the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey in forest regeneration in the Chocó biodiversity hotspot, Ecuador
The Chocó rainforest in Ecuador shows exceptionally high levels of biodiversity while being heavily threatened by anthropogenic activities. Most of the forest is subject to ongoing degradation processes, diminishing populations of many species or bringing them close to extinction, which results in the loss of essential ecological functions. Seed dispersal as a key ecological process is essential for maintaining ecosystem functioning and to understand the mechanisms of animal-plant interactions is crucial to mitigate the consequences of forest degradation. Spider monkeys (genus Ateles) are the main seed dispersers for many Neotropical plant species throughout their distribution area. The brown-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps) is one of the 25 most endangered primates worldwide. With this project, I want to assess the role of the brown-headed spider monkey in forest regeneration by comparing disperser movement patterns and the genetic diversity of dispersed plant species that are also targeted as timber species between undisturbed and selectively logged areas. By combining field data on seed dispersal with data on spatial patterns of genetic diversity of forest trees, I will gain an in-depth understanding of this highly important plant-animal interaction on a genetic, species and ecosystem level.