Brown-headed spider monkeys (Ateles fusciceps), endemic to the Choco-Darien forests and lower Andean forests of NW Ecuador, are considered critically endangered. Unfortunately, scientific data regarding the actual status of populations is lacking. We combined satellite image analysis, species-specific habitat assessment, and a field survey technique using playback to focus conservation efforts for this species. First, we identified remaining forest via a LANDSAT mosaic and then applied species-specific criteria to delineate remaining forest with potential to hold populations. By combining this with the historical distribution from ecological niche modeling and predicted hunting intensity we generated a species-specific landscape map. Within our study area, forest capable of sustaining Ateles fusciceps covers 5872 km2, of which 2172 km2 (40%) is protected. Unprotected forest considered suitable for Ateles fusciceps extends to 3700 km2 but within this only 989 km2 (23%) is under low hunting pressure and likely to maintain healthy populations of Ateles fusciceps. To overcome problems of sampling at low primate density and in difficult mountain terrain we developed a field survey technique to determine presence and estimate abundance using acoustic sampling. For sites under low hunting pressure density of primates varied with altitude. Densities decreased from 7.49 individuals/km2 at 332 masl to 0.9 individuals/km2 at 1570 masl. Based on combining data sets in a gap analysis, we recommend conservation action focus on unprotected lowland forest to the south and west of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve where hunting pressure is low and population densities of Ateles fusciceps are greatest.
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