Dietary plasticity of a understudied primate (Sapajus cay) in a biodiversity hotspot: applying ecological traits to habitat conservation in the Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest

Rebecca L. Smith* (Corresponding Author), Kelly Rebergen, Carter Payne, Epaminondas Megapanos, David Lusseau

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


One of the main threats to wild primates is habitat alteration, fragmentation and destruction. Therefore it is crucial to understand the ability of those species to adapt to human-induced habitat changes to prevent extirpation. Key to this is a species diet plasticity. In Paraguay over 91% of the Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest has been destroyed to expand agricultural land. We determined the diet composition of three Sapajus cay groups in degraded and near-pristine Atlantic Forest in eastern Paraguay to assess whether the diet composition of this species changes with habitat degradation. We accounted for diet variability associated with demographic traits and forest characteristics using multinomial linear models. Once the effect of age, sex, and season were accounted for, we found that the diet of capuchins was plastic and shifted to adapt to studied degraded forest conditions. The results showed that (as expected) the capuchins have a generalist and flexible diet, including opportunistically taking advantage of crop plants, particularly Slash Pine plantations, when the risks were lower. The capuchins ability to adjust their diet in different habitat fragments demonstrates that small islands of Paraguayan Atlantic Forest are valuable for their persistence. This insight can be used to create applied conservation strategies, such as using the existing Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) legislation to provide an opportunity to begin reconnecting fragments using native trees bordered by Slash Pine plantations. Using the capuchins as an umbrella species would increase public support of the program, while compensation through the PES scheme and profiting from the timber would encourage landowner participation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-68
Number of pages16
JournalFolia Primatologica
Issue number1
Early online date28 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2022

Bibliographical note

OA via the Brill Agreement
Funding sources
This research was supported by National Geographic Society (Grant Number:
NGS-299C-18) who provided the funding for the vehicle required to access the Nueva Gambach field site, the Elphinstone Scholarship that covered the tuition fees of RL Smith’s PhD with the University of Aberdeen and Fundación Para La Tierra who provided the primatologist salary (RL Smith) as well as all living costs of the team
at both field sites.


  • conservation behaviour
  • ecological requirements
  • feeding behaviour
  • habitat degradation
  • Latin America
  • Paraguayan primates


Dive into the research topics of 'Dietary plasticity of a understudied primate (Sapajus cay) in a biodiversity hotspot: applying ecological traits to habitat conservation in the Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this