Diets of two sympatric colobines in Zaire: More evidence on seed-eating in forests on poor soils
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- Maisels, F., Gautier-Hion, A. & Gautier, J.P. International Journal of Primatology (1994) 15: 681. doi:10.1007/BF02737427
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Recent studies have shown that the so- called folivorous African colobines eat a significant amount of seeds. There is disagreement as to whether seed-eating is due to the poor quality of tree foliage, due in turn to poor soils, or to the fact that seeds are a normal part of colobine diets. To test these hypotheses, we studied feeding of red colobus monkeys, Colobus badius tholloni,and black-and-white colobus monkeys, Colobus angolensis angolensis,in a tropical rain forest of Central Zaire (Salonga National Park). We conducted studies on soil properties, vegetation composition, and the availability and chemical contents of food plants simultaneously. Soils were very acid, with a high percentage of sand, very low cation exchange capacity, and very low exchangeable bases. The forest was dominated by legumes (45.6% of trees), among which the Caesalpinioideae were the best represented (85%). C. badiusfed mostly on leaves (61%) and seeds (33%), legumes making up 65% of their diet. C. angolensisfed mostly on seeds (50%) and leaves (27%); 39% of their diet came from legumes. The two species tended to select items richer in crude protein or lipids or both. Total phenolics and condensed tannins were abundant in the foliage and seeds but were poor predictors of colobine choice of food. Intersite comparisons show that colobines in Zaire ate a higher proportion of seeds than all other related species so far studied in Africa and that the Salonga forest had among the poorest soils and harbored the highest percentage of Caesalpinioideae. Our results confirm that seed- eating is more common among colobines living in areas where soils are poor. They strongly suggest that this link is mediated through forest composition, especially the abundance of legumes, and that the development of seed- eating results both from the high availability of nutrient-rich seeds and from the poor quality of mature tree foliage.