International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 109–129 | Cite as

Dietary Flexibility and Feeding Strategies of Eulemur: A Comparison with Propithecus

  • Hiroki SatoEmail author
  • Luca Santini
  • Erik R. Patel
  • Marco Campera
  • Nayuta Yamashita
  • Ian C. Colquhoun
  • Giuseppe Donati


Despite the great variety of habitats in Madagascar, Eulemur has successfully populated most forested habitats on the island. Although the high dietary flexibility of Eulemur is often credited as one of the drivers of its evolutionary success, other behavioral evidence suggests a limited capacity for dietary switching. To shed light on the feeding strategies of Eulemur, we compared the dietary flexibility between populations of this genus with that of another widespread lemur taxon, Propithecus. We hypothesized that Eulemur would show greater dietary flexibility than Propithecus, which has a digestive system specialized for folivory, and that Eulemur living in dry forests would switch its diet from fruit to other food seasonally. To examine these hypotheses, we performed a phylogenetic least-squares analysis on 10 populations of Eulemur and 7 of Propithecus to assess the contribution of environmental variables and body mass on their dietary flexibility while controlling for phylogenetic relatedness. Eulemur relied heavily on fruit and did not show large variations in primary food over the year. Propithecus consumed leaves and fruits equally and exhibited considerable flexibility across seasons. Therefore, in contrast to our predictions, the anatomical specialization for fiber digestion heightens dietary flexibility in Propithecus. At the intrageneric level, we found similar ecogeographic variation; populations of both genera with heavier body mass consumed more fruit. As we predicted, Eulemur in drier habitats switched the diet from fruit to alternative food more frequently. To compensate for low dietary flexibility, Eulemur mostly adopts a power-feeding strategy by which it increases energy expenditure to acquire patchily distributed fruit resources.


Anatomical adaptation Behavioral flexibility Diet Feeding strategies Sifakas True lemurs 



The authors thank Steig E. Johnson for co-organizing the symposium “The ‘little brown lemurs’ grow up: New research direction in the genus Eulemur” at the IPS 25th Congress in 2014. We are grateful to Patricia C. Wright, Steig E. Johnson, Richard R. Lawler, Takayo Soma, and Mitchell T. Irwin for providing supplementary information of populations analyzed in this study. We also thank Yamato Tsuji for his helpful advice on the utilization of the databases on WorldClime and 10k Trees. Finally, we express our gratitude to the reviewers of International Journal of Primatology for providing constructive suggestions on our manuscript, and the editor, Joanna M. Setchell. This work was partially supported by the JSPS Grants-in-Aid for young scientists (B: #25870344) and JSPS fellows (#26-699).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hiroki Sato
    • 1
    Email author
  • Luca Santini
    • 2
  • Erik R. Patel
    • 3
  • Marco Campera
    • 4
  • Nayuta Yamashita
    • 5
    • 6
  • Ian C. Colquhoun
    • 7
  • Giuseppe Donati
    • 4
  1. 1.Primate Research InstituteKyoto UniversityInuyamaJapan
  2. 2.Department of Biology and BiotechnologiesSapienza Università di RomaRomeItaly
  3. 3.Duke Lemur CenterDurhamUSA
  4. 4.Nocturnal Primate Research Group, Department of Social SciencesOxford Brookes UniversityOxfordUK
  5. 5.Institute for Population GeneticsUniversity of Veterinary Medicine, ViennaViennaAustria
  6. 6.Austrian Academy of SciencesViennaAustria
  7. 7.Department of Anthropology and The Centre for Environment & SustainabilityUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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