, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 45-56

Food selection by the South Indian leaf-monkey, Presbytis johnii , in relation to leaf chemistry

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The leaf-monkey Presbytis johnii has been found to exhibit considerable selectivity in its dietary utilization of mature foliage in a rain-forest habitat. To investigate the basis of this selectivity and to examine the hypothesis that the observed selection is related to the digestibility and toxicity of the available foliage, chemical analyses have been made on 16 of the most important tree species in the monkey's habitat. It has been found that the most heavily used items, which form a staple part of the diet of P. johnii, are characterized by a low fibre content and a very low condensed tannin content. However, neither class of compound is an absolute feeding deterrent as minor, but still significant, mature leaf food items contain considerable amounts of both. It is suggested that the feeding deterrents in these minor items, which may be ingested to supply specific dietary requirements, can perhaps be tolerated because of their dilution in the gut by the dietary staples. An examination of the pepsin/cellulase digestibility of available mature foliage showed that the staple food items tended to be highly digestible. Little correlation has been found between alkaloid content and food selection and it is suggested that the colobine forestomach microflora has the ability to detoxify at least some alkaloids. Additional data on mature leaf petioles and young leaves suggest that the high ratio of cell-sap to cell-wall in these items, and their related high digestibility, explain the high relative abundance of these items in the P. johnii diet.