Dietary modification by common brown lemurs (Eulemur fulvus) during seasonal drought conditions in western Madagascar


Primates often modify dietary composition in relation to seasonal changes in food availability or climate conditions. We studied the feeding patterns of a troop of common brown lemurs (Eulemur fulvus), a semi-frugivorous strepsirhine, in a dry forest in northwestern Madagascar. To understand the mechanism of dietary modification, we recorded daily feeding times of diet items during 101 full-day observations over 1 year, and then conducted a linear model analysis to examine the effects of fruiting tree density in the forest, daily ambient temperature, and weekly rainfall (index of water retained in the forest) on the lemurs' daily feeding time. The lemurs spent dramatically more time on leaf-eating as well as total feeding time, and less time on fruit-eating during the late dry season (total 152 min/day, frugivory 56 min/day, folivory 77 min/day), as compared with other seasons when the diet was highly frugivorous (total 96 min/day, frugivory 81 min/day, folivory 8 min/day). Folivory increased as temperatures rose under the condition of low weekly rainfall, whereas frugivory was unrelated to fruiting tree density. Most (97.4 %) diurnal folivory during the late dry season was spent consuming Lissochilus rutenbergianus, chewing the succulent leaves and licking the juice. Because the nutritional analysis showed that L. rutenbergianus is rich in water (80.1 % of fresh weight) but poor in protein and nonstructural carbohydrates, its increased use was probably for rehydration. We conducted 13 full-night observations, because brown lemurs increase nocturnal activities during the dry season. At nighttime, the lemurs tended to spend more time eating fruit in the late dry season (32 min/night) than in the early dry season (14 min/night), and never consumed Lrutenbergianus. Fruits rich in nonstructural carbohydrates can be energy sources for Eulemur. They likely engaged in additional nocturnal frugivory for energy compensation. Brown lemurs have a flexible strategy of modifying their diet and feeding activities to cope with environmental stresses.

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The authors are grateful to A. Mori, F. Rakotondraparany, B. Razafimahatratra, T. M. Randriamboavonjy, members of the research team, and all of the staff at Ankarafantsika National Park for their support in carrying out field research, to Durrell Wildlife Cheloniean Breeding Center for providing the climatic data, to J. Rakotoroa, Tsiahifika, A. Rakotovoavy and M. Rasolofomanana for their help with vegetation surveys, to the staff of Tsimbazaza Botanical and Zoological Park and R. H. Robuste for identifying the plant specimens, to G. idani for his support in conducting the nutritional analysis, and to G. Yamakoshi, A. Mori, and N. Nakagawa for helpful comments on the manuscript. This work was partially supported by the MEXT Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (Nos. 17405008, 18681036, 21-3399, 21405007, 24405008, 25870344) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and the Cooperation Research Programs of Primate Research Institute and Wildlife Research Center, Kyoto University.

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Correspondence to Hiroki Sato.

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Online Resource 1 Common brown lemurs (Eulemur fulvus) chewing mature leaves of Lissochilus rutenbergianus (Shooting date: September 22, 2007).

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Supplementary material 1 (MPG 8500 kb)

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Sato, H., Ichino, S. & Hanya, G. Dietary modification by common brown lemurs (Eulemur fulvus) during seasonal drought conditions in western Madagascar. Primates 55, 219–230 (2014) doi:10.1007/s10329-013-0392-0

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  • Behavioral thermoregulation
  • Eulemur
  • Feeding patterns
  • Rehydration
  • Seasonality
  • Tropical dry forests