, Volume 30, Issue 5, pp 675-696
Date: 05 Aug 2009

Nutritional Ecology of Ateles chamek in lowland Bolivia: How Macronutrient Balancing Influences Food Choices

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All free-living animals must make choices regarding which foods to eat, with the choices influencing their health and fitness. An important goal in nutritional ecology is therefore to understand what governs animals’ diet selection. Despite large variation in the availability of different food items, Peruvian spider monkeys (Ateles chamek) maintain a relatively stable daily protein intake, but allow total energy intake to vary as a function of the composition of available food items. This is referred to as protein-dominated macronutrient balancing. Here we assess the influence of this nutritional strategy on daily and seasonal nutritional intakes, estimate the nutritional value of different foods, and interpret unusual food choices. We conducted continuous all-day observations of focal spider monkeys inhabiting a semideciduous forest in Bolivia. We recorded feeding events, collected foods, and analyzed their nutrient content. By using the Geometric Framework for nutrition, we show that individuals reached their daily end-point in nutrient space —balance between protein and nonprotein energy intake— by consuming nutritionally balanced foods or by alternating between nutritionally complementary foods. The macronutritionally balanced figs of Ficus boliviana were their primary staple food and therefore dominated their overall nutritional intake. Our results also demonstrate that spider monkeys consumed a diverse array of ripe fruits to overcome periods of fig scarcity rather than vice versa; they could obtain sufficient protein on a diet of pure fruit; and unripe figs constituted a nutritionally rewarding and reliable food resource. We hope that the approaches taken and the conclusions reached in this study will catalyze further inquiries into the nutritional ecology of frugivorous primates.