, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 56-64
Date: 07 Sep 2005

The role of taste in food selection by African apes: implications for niche separation and overlap in tropical forests

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Abstract

Ripe fruit eating shapes the behavior of most of the apes. Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are very different sizes and, consequently, have been traditionally viewed as ecologically distinct, but few studies have explored the behavioral and physiological foundations of their diets. Debate continues on the extent that large-bodied gorillas may be less selective and more opportunistic fruit eaters than chimpanzees. Taste responses have been predicted to relate to body size and digestive strategies. This study employs laboratory research on taste perception and discrimination among captive zoo-housed chimpanzees and relates it to previous work on gorillas to better characterize diets and niche separation among these apes. During the captive trials, differences were recorded in consumption patterns of water and varying concentrations of dilute aqueous fructose (sweet) and tannic acid solutions (astringent), compounds commonly found in wild foods. The chimpanzees exhibited similar preference thresholds for fructose (50 mM) to other primates studied. They exhibited slightly lower inhibition thresholds for tannic acid solutions than gorillas, but higher than smaller primates studied to date. These preliminary findings suggest that tannin tolerance may well be mediated by body size, though possible species differences in salivary proteins or other sensory differences remain to be explored. This research furthers our efforts to understand the roles of body size and physiological adaptations in shaping diet and niche separation of chimpanzees and gorillas.