Linking Laboratory and Field Approaches in Studying the Evolutionary Physiology of Biting in Bamboo Lemurs
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- Vinyard, C.J., Yamashita, N. & Tan, C. Int J Primatol (2008) 29: 1421. doi:10.1007/s10764-007-9178-9
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A realistic understanding of primate morphological adaptations requires a multidisciplinary approach including experimental studies of physiological performance and field studies documenting natural behaviors and reproductive success. For primate feeding, integrative efforts combining experimental and ecological approaches are rare. We discuss methods for collecting maximum bite forces in the field as part of an integrated ecomorphological research design. Specifically, we compare maximum biting ability in 3 sympatric bamboo lemurs (Hapalemur simus, H. aureus, and H. griseus) at Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar to determine if biting performance contributes to the observed partitioning of a shared bamboo diet. We assessed performance by recording maximum bite forces via jaw-muscle stimulations in anesthetized subjects from each species. Behavioral observations and food properties testing show that the largest species, Hapalemur simus, consumes the largest and most mechanically challenging foods. Our results suggest that Hapalemur simus can generate larger bite forces on average than those of the 2 smaller species. However, the overlap in maximum biting ability between Hapalemur simus and H. aureus indicates that biting performance cannot be the sole factor driving dietary segregation. Though maximum bite force does not fully explain dietary segregation, we hypothesize that size-related increases in both maximum bite force and jaw robusticity provide Hapalemur simus with an improved ability to process routinely its more obdurate diet. We demonstrate the feasibility of collecting physiological, ecological, and morphological data on the same free-ranging primates in their natural habitats. Integrating traditionally laboratory-based approaches with field studies broadens the range of potential primate species for physiological research and fosters improved tests of hypothesized feeding adaptations.