International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 257–313 | Cite as

Modeling dietary selectivity by Bornean orangutans: Evidence for integration of multiple criteria in fruit selection

  • Mark Leighton


Food patch visitation was compared to the availability of fruit patches of different species during 2 years in a Bornean lowland forest to examine orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) diet selectivity. Feeding on both the pulp and the seeds of nonfig fruit varied directly with fruit patch availability, demonstrating preference for these foods over fig fruit or other plant parts (bark or leaves). Factors determining fruit selectivity rank were examined through multiple regression analysis. Modeling selectivity for 52 chemically unprotected “primate-fruit” pulp species revealed strong preferences for species of (i) large crop size (numbers of fruits ripening in an individual patch), (ii) high pulp weight/fruit, and (iii) high pulp mass per swallowed unit of pulp + seed, demonstrating orangutan sensitivity especially to patch size (g of pulp or total energy/patch) and perhaps to fruit handling time. Modeling selectivity for 18 fig species showed that 4 factors significantly influenced fig species rank: crop size, pulp weight/fruit, and 2 chemical variables, percentage digestible carbohydrate and percentage phenolic compounds in the fig fruit pulp. The selectivity rank based on the overall nutrient gain from feeding in the fruit patch (the product of the first 3 variables) is proportionally depressed by the percentage tannin content, demonstrating that orangutans integrate values for these variables in selecting fig patches. The conclusions from these results and from analysis of selectivity for seeds and for other fruit types are that orangutan foraging decisions are strongly influenced by the meal size expected from a feeding visit (i.e., by patch size), that tannins and other toxins deter feeding, and that the energy content, rather than the protein content, of foods is important in diet selection. The foraging strategy of orangutans is interpreted relative to these results and to Bornean fruiting phenology. By integrating spatial, morphometric, and chemical variables in analysis, this study is the first to demonstrate the application of foraging theory to separate out the key variables that determine diet selection in a primate. Multivariate analysis should routinely be applied to such data to distinguish among the many covarying attributes of food items and patches; inferences drawn in previous studies of primate diet selection, which ignore key spatial and morphological variables and rely on univariate correlations, are therefore suspect.

Key Words

diet selection foraging theory seed dispersal seed predation patch size tannin orangutan Pongo pygmaeus 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Leighton
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyHarvard UniversityCambridge

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