, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 233-246

Nutritional constraints on mountain baboons (Papio ursinus): Implications for baboon socioecology

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Populations of baboon (Papio sp.) at geographic and climatic extremes for the genus show a tendency to one-male organization, whereas most baboons live in multimale social groups; this effect has been attributed largely to limitation of food supply, but baboons' complex diet has hindered proper nutritional analyses. To test these optimal-diet explanations of social variation, we quantified intake and used phytochemical analysis of foods to compare the nutrition, during seasonal changes, of two groups of mountain baboons (P. ursinus) living at different altitudes of a continuous grassland habitat. The majority of plant foods were eaten uniquely by one or other group, though their altitudinal separation was only 400 m, and the time budget of feeding choices varied with age-sex class as well as season. Converting to a common currency of nutrients reveals that baboons gained the same yield from a unit time spent foraging (whether this is measured in edible dry weight, or simply protein) in both groups, despite their differing mean altitude, whereas seasonal variation was large and statistically significant. Increased feeding time at the winter “bottleneck” made no effective compensation for the poorer food yields: in late winter there was a minimum for daily nutrient gain at both altitudes. Apparently this population is already at an extreme for the time animals devote to foraging in winter, when they rely on inconspicuous and slow-to-harvest swollen shoot bases and underground plant storage organs. Since an individual's nutrient yield does not vary with altitude, we conclude that socioecological parameters are effectively optimized for feeding. Since contest competition is absent, this adjustment of foraging efficiency is largely through the effect of differential density on scramble competition. Differences in social structure are considered to be a secondray consequence of optimal foraging, mediated through altitudinal variation in either population density or in day range limits.