Movement patterns of three arboreal primates in a Neotropical moist forest explained by LiDAR-estimated canopy structure

Kevin A. McLean, Anne M. Trainor, Gregory P. Asner, Margaret C. Crofoot, Mariah E. Hopkins, Christina J. Campbell, Roberta E. Martin, David E. Knapp, Patrick A. Jansen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Context: Many arboreal mammals in Neotropical forests are important seed dispersers that influence the spatial patterns of tree regeneration via their movement patterns, which in turn are determined by the canopy structure of the forest itself. However, the relationship between arboreal mammal movement and canopy structure is poorly understood, due in large part to the complexity of quantifying arboreal habitat structure. Objectives: We relate detailed movement trajectories of three sympatric primate species to attributes of canopy structure derived from airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) in order to understand the role of structure in arboreal movement in the tropical moist forest of Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Methods: We used high-resolution LiDAR to quantify three-dimensional attributes of the forest canopy of the entire island, high-resolution GPS tracking to map the movement patterns of the monkey species, and step selection functions to relate movement decisions to canopy attributes. Results: We found that movement decisions were correlated with canopy height and distance to gaps, which indicate forest maturity and lateral connectivity, in all three species. In the two faster-moving species, step selection was also correlated with the thickness of the crown layer and the density of vegetation within the crown. Conclusions: The correlations detected are fully in line with known differences in the locomotor adaptations and movement strategies of the study species, and directly reflect maximization of energetic efficiency and ability to escape from predators. Quantification of step selection in relation to structure thus provides insight into the ways in which arboreal animals use their environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1849-1862
Number of pages14
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Alouatta palliata
  • Arboreal habitat
  • Ateles geoffroyi
  • Canopy structure
  • Cebus capucinus
  • LiDAR
  • Movement ecology
  • Primate
  • Step selection function

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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