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Monkeys, Mangoes and Climate Change

by David Gill

35 pounds of mangoes!

Growing up in Barbados, "summer" was my favourite time of year. Mostly because school was out (I hated school!) but also because it was a special time of year for other species as well, (mango season!).

We had ~11 varieties of mangoes from 13 trees (example mangoes, Figure 1). Not all trees bore mangoes at the same time, so some days we had 2-3 trees to choose from, but other times we had around 6-8 trees. I remember one summer we collected ~ 35 lb of mangoes in one run (header photo).

Unfortunately, we were not the only foragers, but competed fiercely with another non-native species: Chlorocebus pygerythrus, the vervet monkey (Figure 2). Brought over from Africa by the Europeans over 350 year ago, these monkeys would sample various trees and fruit, taking one bite of a mango and leaving it behind to try another few. As a boy I knew that I was outnumbered by these agile competitors, so I attempted a variety of strategies to balance the odds: from standing guard under the trees, bagging choice mangoes in cloth bags to "hide" them from the monkeys, to more direct territorial behaviour (i.e. yelling and chasing monkeys down the street).

Monkey and Mangoes

However, anecdotal information from family suggested that these adaptive strategies led to retaliatory behaviour: crop destruction, tree damage, and angry displays where the animal raises their tail and points their rear in the direction of the said human. This intense competition extended to other food resources (e.g.Persea americana [avocado], and Spondias cytherea [ambarella or "golden apples"]).

In recent years, development has led to a drastic reduction in mango diversity (aka my sister built her house on the “empty” lot) and we are now down to 7 varieties of mango. Further, erratic weather and climate conditions has altered the bearing seasons, making mango season more and more unpredictable. Nonetheless, despite much lower yields, we can still enjoy two, or three, or five mangoes while the trees are still around!

David Gill is a marine scientist and post-doctoral researcher, currently living in Arlington VA.


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