Am I really going to talk about all the integrative biology of the sloth?! No!
It all started on our way to the Tupper talk made by Megan Crofoot. For unknown reason cars were slowing down, we didn’t understand what was in the middle of the road, then we saw a sloth and its baby trying to reach the nearest tree : Such a wonderful encounter!
Once the first 3 minutes of astonishment were gone, I remembered about the whole ecosystem that was carried by sloth on their back. (cf. Single Species Ecosystems Post).
This made me think of all the talks we had on the whole tropical ecosystem : actually sloths are (very slow) walking tropical ecosystems!
First and foremost : mammals !
They are always the animals that I am the more exciting to see. As soon as we moor on BCI, we were surrounded by agoutis (the rats of the tropics?). As we went along with our visit of the island we saw others mammal as monkeys and kinkajou.
As for our sloth ecosystem the sloth is doing the part of the mammal!
Now the second level of the ecosystem : plants. We have learned a lot on the significant diversity of tropical plants thanks to the knowledge of Lissie Colie on Inga speciation and plants biodiversity.
What is interesting is that plants can be in unexpected places. Sloths have algae that grow in special channels in the sloth’s grooved hairs! Trichophilus welckeri allows them to be cryptic in the green background of the forest.
The third level of the ecosystem : arthropods. In our numerous walks in the forest we have seen the immeasurable quantity of arthropods species, from butterflies to spiders including dragonflies!
The comparison with the sloth is that we can find more than 150 insects on each sloth within the fur, and in particular sloth moths, identified as the species Cryptoses choloepi. The moths are thought to get nutrients from the secretions of the sloths’ skin and the algae present on the fur, as well as protection from avian predators. And the descent to the sloth’s midden affords the pregnant moths in its fleece a chance to lay eggs.
Because I have to also talk to the bird community (otherwise I will have some enemies!), I will just say that sloths biggest predators are the harpie eagles!
(if someone can help me identify this species?)
As an integrative biologist, I can say that sloths are a wonderful and interesting system to study species interaction.
Gilmore, D. P.; Da Costa, C. P.; Duarte, D. P. F. (2001). “Sloth biology: an update on their physiological ecology, behavior and role as vectors of arthropods and arboviruses”. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research (Ribeirão Preto) 34 (1): 9–25
Pauli, Jonathan N., et al. “A syndrome of mutualism reinforces the lifestyle of a sloth.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences281.1778 (2014): 20133006