Diet and Feeding Ecology of Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in Bulindi, Uganda: Foraging Strategies at the Forest–Farm Interface
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- McLennan, M.R. Int J Primatol (2013) 34: 585. doi:10.1007/s10764-013-9683-y
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Wild animals increasingly inhabit human-influenced environments such as forest fragments amid agricultural systems. Dietary studies provide a means of assessing wildlife responses to anthropogenic habitat changes. Chimpanzees are specialist frugivores that consume other plant parts, e.g., fibrous pith and leaves, in greater amounts during fruit shortages. I examined the plant diet and seasonal foraging strategies of chimpanzees inhabiting small forest fragments within a cultivated landscape in Uganda. I determined diet over 13 mo via systematic fecal analysis, supplemented by direct observation and feeding trace evidence. I identified important foods and examined their role as seasonal fallbacks. Diet composition and breadth were overall species typical. Chimpanzees were highly frugivorous and the fruit component of fecal samples exceeded that of nonfruit fiber in all months. Forest fruit availability fluctuated seasonally, including a 3-mo low fruiting season, when overall fruit intake declined. During this time chimpanzees pursued a mixed strategy of increasing fiber consumption and feeding more heavily on energy-rich cultivars, including those obtained through crop raiding. The data suggest that exploiting agricultural fruits helped chimpanzees maintain a fruit-dominated diet when forest fruit was scarce. No evidence suggested this disturbed forest–farm mosaic is a food-impoverished habitat for chimpanzees overall. Nevertheless, cultivar feeding creates conflict with people and the high nutritional quality of crops is likely offset by the inherent risk associated with obtaining them. This study adds to growing evidence of ecological and behavioral adaptability of Pan troglodytes in response to anthropogenic habitat alteration. Targeted conservation of key natural foods for wildlife —particularly fallbacks— would help reduce conflicts and improve the survival prospects of threatened species sharing environments with people.