The Social Context of Resource Exploitation by Immature Tufted Capuchins (Cebus Apella)
Feuerstein, Jennifer M.
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Feeding and foraging techniques of immature primates during the weaning period has not been well documented. Capuchins (Cebus) are a useful genus in which to explore feeding and foraging patterns in immature individuals. Capuchins have a broad and complex diet; many of the resources they exploit require complicated foraging actions, such as extraction. Capuchin infants develop slowly over a long weaning process, possibly in response to the difficult and diverse food preferences of capuchins. Young capuchins forage in a socially tolerant milieu; social context may support or enable their efforts to exploit difficult materials during the weaning process. We documented the changing nature of social interactions and efficiency in processing a challenging and highly preferred resource (unshelled pecans) by immature capuchins. Twelve infant and juvenile capuchins were observed for two 6-8 week blocks over a five month period under two conditions. During the baseline condition, the subjects were observed following the introduction of the normal diet (monkey chow). During test sessions, the subjects were observed following the introduction of the normal diet and unshelled pecans. The immature individuals in general were more interactive socially during test sessions than during baseline sessions. Some infants were unable to open the pecans; these infants obtained a large portion of their nuts through social interactions. Other individuals tolerated infants' attempts to inspect or gain food from them under both conditions. These findings illustrate that certain common social interactions allow young, inexperienced capuchins to obtain resources from others. Acquiring food socially may serve two adaptive functions. As an infant capuchin grows older and larger, the mother becomes less able to meet all of the nutritional demands of her offspring. Social acquisition of food allows the infant to supplement its diet with a wide variety of resources, including those too difficult for the infant to process independently. The nutritional and energetic requirements of the infant are met, promoting its survival to adulthood. Social acquisition of food may also familiarize an infant capuchin with a safe and proper diet that has been successful for other group members, and exposes the infant to resources that it may be physically incapable of processing. In short, social acquisition of food enables immature tufted capuchins to exploit and become familiar with resources that may otherwise be inaccessible to them.