Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 58, Issue 6, pp 618–629 | Cite as

Light levels used during feeding by primate species with different color vision phenotypes

  • Nayuta YamashitaEmail author
  • Kathryn E. Stoner
  • Pablo Riba-Hernández
  • Nathaniel J. Dominy
  • Peter W. Lucas
Original Article


The intensity of available light is important in determining how well a diurnal animal can distinguish color. Primates with different types of color vision may exhibit behaviors that maximize visual contrast during critical activities such as feeding. We hypothesized that (1) trichromatic taxa will feed in a wide range of light conditions because color constancy permits stabilized color appearance across changes in illumination, and (2) that taxa with a high proportion of dichromatic individuals will tend to feed at higher light levels to increase color contrast. We recorded light levels during feeding bouts of seven primate taxa with varying degrees of color vision: the dichromatic Lemur catta, two polymorphic species, Propithecus v. verreauxi and Ateles geoffroyi, and the routine trichromats, Alouatta palliata, Colobus guereza, Piliocolobus badius, and Cercopithecus ascanius. Results were equivocal for our hypotheses. While routinely trichromatic taxa used varying light levels, the pattern of results did not differ from the dichromatic Lemur catta. However, polymorphic taxa not only sought the highest light, but females, which are the only individuals in polymorphic taxa that can be trichromatic, fed in higher light levels than males when eating non-green foods. This result is consistent with selection operating to maintain a balanced polymorphism in these taxa, though the connection between light levels and color vision type for the females is unclear. Our results further suggest that trichromatic vision may afford a selective advantage because it permits foraging under a greater range of light levels.


Color vision Diurnality Light levels Primate foraging 



This study was funded by grants from the Royal Grants Council, Croucher Foundation, and National Geographic Society to P.W.L. We would like to thank P.Y. Cheng for his logistical expertise during all phases of this project. This research could not have been carried out without the cooperation of organizations in the host countries where it was conducted: in Madagascar, the Association Nationale pour la Gestation des Aires Protégées; the Departement des Eaux et Fôret; the Université d’Antananarivo; the staff at the Madagascar Institut pour la Conservation des Environnements Tropicaux; Joel Ratsirarson and the staff at Beza Mahafaly for all their assistance and kindness; and Alison Richard and Bob Sussman for censussing the lemurs at Beza Mahafaly. In Costa Rica we are grateful to the Guanacaste Conservation Area for logistics and permits to work at the Murciélago ranger station. In Uganda, we thank the late Patrick Kagoro, Boniface Balyeganira and Moses Musana, our field assistants, and also Colin Chapman, Joanna Lambert and Richard Wrangham for their help. Research was made possible by the Ugandan National Council for Science and Technology, Ugandan Wildlife Authority and Makerere University Biological Field Station (director, J. Kasenene). We also thank D. Osorio for comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. The comments of three anonymous reviewers aided the clarity of the manuscript considerably.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nayuta Yamashita
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kathryn E. Stoner
    • 2
  • Pablo Riba-Hernández
    • 3
  • Nathaniel J. Dominy
    • 4
  • Peter W. Lucas
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Cell and Neurobiology, Keck School of Medicine/BMT 405University of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Centro de Investigaciones en EcosistemasUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMoreliaMexico
  3. 3.Escuela de BiologíaUniversidad de Costa RicaSan PedroCosta Rica
  4. 4.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta CruzUSA
  5. 5.Department of AnthropologyGeorge Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA

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