Temporal Variation in Insect-eating by Chimpanzees and Gorillas in Southeast Cameroon: Extension of Niche Differentiation

  • Isra DeblauweEmail author


I studied insect-foraging strategies of great apes and aimed to define niche differentiation in their insect diet. I investigated seasonality in fruit-, foliage-, insect-, and meat-eating by great apes in southeast Cameroon via indirect methods and measured activity and nest densities of insect prey. I used a multinomial logistic regression to analyze the data. Gorilla and chimpanzee insect-, ant-, and termite-eating does not correlate with rainfall. Ant- and nonwinged termite-eating by chimpanzees increased in periods of succulent fruit scarcity and provided protein and energy, which might have compensated for the protein-low foliage eaten then. The apes ate winged termites when succulent fruit was abundant. Ant and winged termite consumption by gorillas correlates positively with that of chimpanzees. Ant-eating by gorillas increased when fruit was scarce, but was also associated with temporal ant activity and nest density. Both ape species also encountered more ant nests and trails in that period, as they predominantly foraged for herbs in vegetation types with high ant availability. In contrast, fruit-eating correlates positively with nonwinged termite-eating by gorillas, but again temporal prey availability is also associated. Termites might have provided 1) supplemental iron when tannin-rich fruits were eaten or 2) antidiarrheal properties when gorillas ate too much laxative fruit. Termite-eating by both ape species is not associated with spatial termite availability. In conclusion, there is niche differentiation in their insect diet. Based on the trade-off between foraging effort and nutritional gain, chimpanzees use a high-energy and gorillas a low-energy strategy when feeding on termites, but both use a low-energy strategy when feeding on ants. However, more information on the consumption of ant larvae is necessary to define niche differentiation in their ant diet.


ants foraging strategies great apes seasonality termites 



I thank the RZSA, Durell Wildlife Conservation Fund, the logging company FIPCAM, MINRESI (Ministère de la Recherche Scientifique et de l’Innovation, Cameroon), MINFoF (Ministère de Forêt et de la Faune, Cameroon), and the Service de Conservation de la Reserve de Faune du Dja for supporting this project. I thank the Badjoué trackers who guided me and Patrick Guislain and the many volunteers who helped with data collection. The King Leopold III fund for Nature Exploration and Conservation (RBINS), the Flemish Inter-University Council (VLIR), Father Louis Bruyns Foundation (UA), and the Fund to Promote Scientific Research in Africa (NBG, Meisse) funded the fieldwork. I was supported by a grant from the UA and the RZSA. I thank the Flemish government for structural support to the CRC of the RZSA. Thanks are also due to Stefan Van Dongen for statistical advice; to Eric Arnhem for helping me with DISTANCE 4.1.; and to Nikki Tagg, Linda Van Elsacker, Jeroen Stevens, Patrick Guislain, David Watts, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Research and ConservationRoyal Zoological Society of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of AntwerpWilrijkBelgium

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