Rapid Assessment of the Nutritional Value of Foods Eaten by Mountain Gorillas: Applying Near-Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy to Primatology
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- Rothman, J.M., Chapman, C.A., Hansen, J.L. et al. Int J Primatol (2009) 30: 729. doi:10.1007/s10764-009-9372-z
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The increasing recognition of the considerable intraspecific spatial and temporal variability in the nutritional contents of primate foods has necessitated development of fast and cost-effective analytical methods. Used widely for agricultural products, near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) is a quick, inexpensive means of assessing nutritional chemistry. The general principle of NIRS is that when the sample is irradiated with near-infrared light, the reflectance spectrum is characteristic of the mixture of chemical bonds present in the sample. These spectra, when calibrated against reference values—determined via traditional nutritional analysis—to develop regression equations, can be used to estimate nutritional values of similar samples without doing traditional nutritional analysis. We validated the use of NIRS for estimating the nutritional attributes of African herbs and trees, which were foods eaten by mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei) collected as part of a larger study on gorilla nutritional ecology. We determined the near-infrared spectra (1100–2400 nm) of 241 dried samples of 13 species of tropical herbs and trees that formed the staple diet of the gorillas. We used modified partial least-squares regression to develop calibration equations that could predict nutritional attributes of gorilla foods, and we performed an independent validation of the calibrations. The equations had robust predictive power similar to those used in agricultural and ecology, and we found no differences between samples measured via NIRS and traditional nutritional analysis. Our analysis indicates that NIRS offers a rapid and cost-effective means of analysis of tropical leaves and herbs, and has the potential to transform primate feeding ecology studies by allowing us to evaluate the importance of intraspecific variation in nutritional value.