Feeding over the 24-h cycle: dietary flexibility of cathemeral collared lemurs (Eulemur collaris)
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Animals show specific morphological, physiological and behavioural adaptations to diurnal or nocturnal activity. Cathemeral species, i.e. animals with activities distributed over the 24-h period, have to compromise between these specific adaptations. The driving evolutionary forces and the proximate costs and benefits of cathemerality are still poorly understood. Our goal was to evaluate the role of predator avoidance, food availability and diet quality in shaping cathemeral activity of arboreal mammals using a lemur species as an example. For this, two groups of collared lemurs, Eulemur collaris, were studied for 14 months in the littoral forest of southeastern Madagascar. Data on feeding behaviour were collected during all-day and all-night follows by direct observation. A phenological transect containing 78 plant species was established and monitored every 2 weeks to evaluate food availability during the study period. Characteristics of food items and animal nutritional intake were determined via biochemical analyses. The ratio of diurnal to nocturnal feeding was used as response variable in the analyses. The effects of abiotic environmental variables were removed statistically before the analyses of the biotic variables. We found that diurnal feeding lasted longer during the hot–wet season (December–February), whereas nocturnal feeding peaked during the hot–dry and cool–wet seasons (March–August). Although the lemurs foraged mostly in lower forest strata during daylight and used emergent trees preferably at night, the variables which measured animal exposure to birds of prey failed to predict the variation of the ratio of diurnal/nocturnal feeding. Ripe fruit availability and fiber intake are the two variables which best predicted the annual variation of the lemur diurnality. The data indicate that feeding over the whole 24-h cycle is advantageous during lean periods when animals have a fibre-rich, low-quality diet.