International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 258–287 | Cite as

The Behavioral Ecology of Color Vision: Considering Fruit Conspicuity, Detection Distance and Dietary Importance

  • A. D. MelinEmail author
  • C. Hiramatsu
  • N. A. Parr
  • Y. Matsushita
  • S. Kawamura
  • L. M. Fedigan


Primate color vision is well suited for investigating the genetic basis of foraging behavior owing to a clear genotype–phenotype linkage. Finding fruits amid tropical foliage has long been proffered as an adaptive explanation for primate trichromacy, yet there is a dearth of systematic evaluations of frugivory as an ecological selective force. We studied the behavioral ecology of wild capuchins (Cebus capucinus) in northwestern Costa Rica across the annual cycle and modeled the ability of three dichromatic and three trichromatic phenotypes to discriminate fruits from leaves, a task that represents long-distance search for food patches in a tropical forest. Models of the trichromatic phenotypes could correctly discriminate approximately three-quarters of the total capuchin dietary fruits from leaves, including some fruits subjectively classified as having “cryptic” (greenish-brownish) hues. In contrast, models of dichromatic phenotypes could discriminate fewer than one-third of the fruits. This pattern held when we restricted our analysis to only the most heavily consumed diet items, preferred foods, or seasonally critical species. We in addition highlight the potential of fruit species with small patch sizes to confer an advantage to trichromats, as these resources are anticipated to provide a high finder’s reward. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that long-distance detection of fruit patches exerts a selective pressure on trichromacy in neotropical primates, and suggest that greenish-brownish fruits might have played an underappreciated role in the evolution of primate color vision.


Capuchin Cebus Foraging Opsin genes Polymorphic trichromacy Spectrophotometry 



We thank Guest Editor Lauren Brent and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable contributions to this manuscript. We thank Adrián Guadamuz Chavarria for ongoing botanical assistance in SSR, and Norberto Asensio, Adrienne Blauel, Elvin Murillo Chacón, Brandon Klüg, Michael Lemmon, and Laura Weckman for their assistance with behavioral and ecological data collection. We thank John Addicott for building a database for spectral reflectance measurements; Roger Blanco Segura, Maria Marta Chavarria, and other staff of the Área de Conservación Guanacaste for local support; and the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía (MINAE) of Costa Rica for facilitating this study. The authors were supported by grants from the Alberta Ingenuity Fund, the Animal Behavior Society, the Leakey Foundation, and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to A. D. Melin, NSERC and the Canada Research Chairs Program to L. M. Fedigan, the Grant-in-Aid for the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Fellows (15-11926) to C. Hiramatsu, and the Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (A) (19207018 and 22247036) from JSPS to S. Kawamura.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. D. Melin
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • C. Hiramatsu
    • 3
  • N. A. Parr
    • 1
  • Y. Matsushita
    • 4
  • S. Kawamura
    • 4
  • L. M. Fedigan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyWashington UniversitySt. LouisUSA
  3. 3.Department of Human Science, Faculty of DesignKyushu UniversityMinamikuJapan
  4. 4.Department of Integrated BiosciencesUniversity of TokyoKashiwa-shiJapan

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