Behavioral Adaptations to Heat Stress and Water Scarcity in White-Faced Capuchins (Cebus capucinus) in Santa Rosa National Park, Costa Rica


We examined thermoregulatory behaviors in a wild population of white-faced capuchins (Cebus capucinus) inhabiting a highly seasonal dry forest in Santa Rosa National Park (SRNP), Costa Rica. The dry season in SRNP lasts approximately 5 months and is characterized by high ambient temperatures regularly exceeding 37 degrees C, low relative humidity, and the near absence of precipitation. This study demonstrates that capuchins rest more and travel shorter distances during the hottest and driest hours of the day, and suggests that they extend their tongues to lower body temperature via evaporative cooling. Seasonal weather patterns and group movement data reported here are based on 940 h of observations on three social groups of capuchins (wet season: 370 h, dry season: 570 h). In the dry season, the proportion of time spent resting increased at higher temperatures whereas the proportion of time spent traveling decreased. Distance traveled between location points taken at half-hour intervals decreased significantly as temperature increased, although the correlation was not strong. Capuchins exposed their tongues during hot, dry, windy conditions, and this behavior was much more frequent in the dry season. Temperature was significantly higher and humidity significantly lower for “tongue-out” events than expected for a random event in the dry season. Finally, as surface water became scarce, home-range areas of heavy use became increasingly centered on the remaining permanent water sources. These results suggest that heat stress and water scarcity are significant influences on the behavior of capuchins in hot, dry conditions.

American Journal of Physical Anthropology