Monitoring the habitat and spatial associations of two threatened primates along a conservation area in western Ecuador
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The Chocó rainforest in coastal Ecuador is an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot that has been more than 95% deforested for logging and agricultural purposes, which has reduced wildlife habitat and isolated remaining habitat patches. In response to rapid deforestation, the Three Forest Conservation Corridor (TFCC) was established to promote connectivity among local reserves and create the Three Forests Conservation Area (TFCA). As managers from these reserves plan to acquire land to expand the protected area, a better understanding of threatened species’ habitat associations, such as two threatened primates: the Ecuadorian capuchin (Cebus aequatorialis) and the Ecuadorian mantled howler (Alouatta palliata aequatorialis), is required to inform management and acquisition decisions. I recorded activity and distribution of both primate species using twenty acoustic monitoring devices and trail cameras deployed in the forest canopy at stations spread across the TFCA. I assessed the influence of habitat type (agriculture and three forest types [cloud, dry, and wet]), vegetation structure, and landscape composition on occupancy and local presence using single-season occupancy models. I also mapped total detections of both primate species to identify areas of frequent use. Models that included covariates were compared to null models using AICc, and goodness-of-fit-tests. Although the 90% confidence interval of regression coefficients overlapped ‘0’, the model that included a positive relationship with station height was the best model for Ecuadorian mantled howlers and the model that included a negative relationship with distance to edge was the best model for Ecuadorian capuchins. The lack of significance likely was due to the limited number of canopy stations as well as a low detection probability, a common issue when studying rare species. Maps indicated that cloud forest on the northeastern edge of the TFCA were frequently used by both species. I suggest preserving the remaining intact forests with tall trees to aid in both species’ conservation. Additionally, results will guide future areas for protection and corridor expansion.