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The Influence of Seasonal Variation on Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) Fallback Food Consumption, Nest Group Size, and Habitat Use in Gishwati, a Montane Rain Forest Fragment in Rwanda

Abstract

The increased number of primates living in fragmented habitats necessitates greater knowledge of how they cope with large-scale changes to their environment. Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are exceptionally vulnerable to forest fragmentation; however, little is known about chimpanzee feeding ecology in fragments. Although chimpanzees have been shown to prefer fruit when it is available and fall back on more abundant lower quality foods during periods of fruit scarcity, our understanding of how chimpanzees use fallback foods in forest fragments is poor. We examined how chimpanzees cope with periods of fruit scarcity in Gishwati Forest Reserve, a disturbed montane rain forest fragment in Rwanda. We assessed seasonal changes in chimpanzee diet and the use of preferred and fallback foods through fecal and food site analysis. We also examined seasonal variation in nest group size and habitat use through marked nest censuses. We found that chimpanzees experienced a seasonal reduction in preferred fruit availability, which led to a seasonal diet shift to more fibrous foods, including several that functioned as fallback foods. Our results suggest that during periods of fruit scarcity the chimpanzees also reduced nest group size. However, we found that the chimpanzees did not alter their habitat use between high- and low-fruit seasons, which suggests that the small size of the forest limits their ability to change their seasonal habitat use. Consequently, fallback foods appear to be particularly important in small food-impoverished habitats with limited ranging options.

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Acknowledgments

The Great Ape Trust provided funding for this study. We thank Governors’ Camp/Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge for providing additional support. We also thank the Government of Rwanda for their support of our research. In addition, we express our appreciation for the helpful discussions and comments on previous versions of the manuscript we received from Benjamin B. Beck, Serge A. Wich, Andrew J. Marshall, Lynne A. Isbell, Jessica M. Rothman, Joanna M. Setchell, and 2 anonymous reviewers. We thank Madeleine Nyiratuza and Peter Clay for logistical support in Rwanda. We thank Iain Darbyshire and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Eberhardt Fischer, and Bonny Dumbo for their assistance in plant species identification. We especially thank Thomas Safari, Samuel Uwimana, Patience Mwiseneza, Alex Ndayambaje, Isaac Ngayincyuro, Olivier Ngabonziza, and Eric Munyeshuli for assistance in the field.

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Correspondence to Rebecca L. Chancellor.

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Chancellor, R.L., Rundus, A.S. & Nyandwi, S. The Influence of Seasonal Variation on Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) Fallback Food Consumption, Nest Group Size, and Habitat Use in Gishwati, a Montane Rain Forest Fragment in Rwanda. Int J Primatol 33, 115–133 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-011-9561-4

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Keywords

  • Fallback foods
  • Forest fragments
  • Gishwati
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Rwanda