, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 1-23

Ecological Constraints on the Foraging Effort of Western Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) at Bai Hoköu, Central African Republic

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Abstract

Recent studies demonstrate that western lowland gorillas incorporate much more fruit into their diet than Virunga mountain gorillas do. Very little is known, however, about how the frugivorous behavior of western gorillas influences their daily ranging behavior, which may ultimately affect social factors such as group size and structure. I examined the influence of diet and the spatiotemporal availability of plant foods on the foraging effort of nonhabituated western lowland gorilla groups during 17 months at Bai Hoköu in the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic. I determined diet from indirect methods and gorilla plant food availability and spatial distribution from phenology and line transects. Daily path length gives an estimate of foraging effort and was the distance paced, following fresh gorilla trails, from morning to evening nest sites. The availability and distribution of fruit and its consumption by gorillas varied seasonally. When concentrating on fruits, gorillas traveled significantly farther (mean = 3.1 km/day) than when their diet consisted mostly of nonfruit vegetation, such as leaves and woody pith, stems, and bark (mean = 2.1 km/day). The amount of herbaceous vegetation in the diet did not vary seasonally and did not influence daily path length. The best environmental predictor of foraging effort was fruit density, or a measure combining both density and spatial pattern: coefficient of dispersion. In addition, when fruit patches were small, path length tended to increase but not significantly. Compared with results of other studies, gorillas at Bai Hoköu travel farther (mean = 2.6 km/day) than gorillas in Gabon (mean = 1.7 km/day) and five times farther than mountain gorillas in the Virungas (mean = 0.5 km/day). Increased foraging effort of gorillas in this region, especially during the fruiting season, may have profound effects on group size and structure.