Feeding Patterns and Dietary Profile of Nocturnal Southern Woolly Lemurs (Avahi meridionalis) in Southeast Madagascar
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Folivory has evolved in all primate radiations but the relative importance of resource quantity and nutritional quality of food is controversial. To understand how food abundance and different nutrients affect a folivorous diet, we investigated food composition of the leaf-eating lemur Avahi meridionalis. From June to December 2004, we conducted 26 nights of focal observation (256.1 h) in Sainte Luce pluvial littoral forest (southeast Madagascar) and recorded feeding behavior of 4 radiocollared individuals. Within the subjects’ home ranges, we recorded vegetation characteristics (morphospecies, phenology, diameter at breast height) and sampled food and nonfood items for chemical analyses. A. meridionalis did not eat fruit but only leaves and flowers and did not base their choice on food abundance. Adult leaves eaten were higher in easily soluble protein than adult leaves that were not consumed. The subjects ate young leaves and flowers as soon as they became available. These young leaves contained the same concentrations of soluble protein, higher concentrations of crude protein, and lower concentrations of acid detergent fiber and sugar than mature food leaves. A. meridionalis ate leaves with condensed tannins, alkaloids, and intermediate concentrations of polyphenolics. Contrary to previous studies that considered Avahi spp. a specialist, A. meridionalis acted as leaf-eating generalists with moderate selectivity, based on nutritional quality and tolerance of a wide array of plant secondary metabolites. This illustrates the dietary flexibility within a single genus of primates that seems to be driven by environmental constraints rather than morphological or physiological adaptations.