Ateline primates – howler monkeys, woolly monkeys, spider monkeys, and muriquis – are a closely related group of New World monkeys that shared a common ancestor roughly 16 million years ago. These primate taxa exhibit marked differences in foraging strategies and patterns of social organization, making them an excellent natural system for comparative study. Interestingly, however, all members of this clade of primates are characterized by a tendency for females to disperse from their natal social groups prior to reproduction and for some degree of male philopatry, which are both features of social organization that they share with the African great apes. Prompted by this convergence with African hominoids (and, presumably, with our earliest human ancestors), much of our lab’s field research to date has centered on ateline primates.
Our recent field work on atelines has focused on woolly monkey social behavior and population genetic structure and on comparing the social behavior, foraging strategies, seed dispersal behavior, and cognitive ecology of woolly monkeys with those of sympatric white-bellied spider monkeys (Ateles belzebuth) a closely-related primate that differs markedly in social organization.