Fruit Trait Preference in Rhesus Macaques (Macaca mulatta) and its Implications for Seed Dispersal
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Primates constitute 25–40 % of the frugivore biomass of tropical forests. Primate fruit preference, as a determinant of seed dispersal, can therefore have a significant impact on these ecosystems. Although the traits of fruits included in primate diets have been described, fruit trait preference has been less studied with respect to fruit availability. We examined fruit trait preference and its implications for seed dispersal in the rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta), a dietarily flexible species and important seed disperser, at the Buxa Tiger Reserve, India. Over a year, we monitored the phenology of selected trees in the study area, observed the feeding behavior of rhesus macaques using scans and focal animal sampling, and documented morphological traits of the fruits/seeds consumed. Using generalized linear modeling, we found that the kind of edible tissue was the chief determinant of fruit consumption, with M. mulatta feeding primarily on fruits with juicy-soft pulp and acting as seed predators for those with no discernible pulp. Overall, the preferred traits were external covers that could be easily pierced by a fingernail, medium to large seeds, true stone-like seeds, and juicy-soft edible tissue, thereby implying that fruit taxa with these traits had a higher probability of being dispersed. Macaques were more selective during the high fruit availability period than the low fruit availability period, preferentially feeding on soft-skinned fruits with juicy-soft pulp. We suggest that further studies be conducted across habitats and time to understand the consistency of interactions between primates and fruits with specific traits to determine the degree of selective pressure (if any) that is exerted by primates on fruit traits.
KeywordsFrugivore Fruit Availability Index India Preference Index Rhesus macaque
The authors thank the West Bengal Forest Department for granting necessary permits for the study. Suresh Roy and Netra Prasad Sharma provided invaluable assistance during field work and Tanumay Datta gave helpful inputs with respect to data analysis. This study was supported by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India (contract grant number: SB/SO/AS-128/2012). The authors would also like to thank Dr. Setchell and the two anonymous reviewers for their extremely valuable inputs which helped improve the manuscript.
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