International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 281–295 | Cite as

Deadwood Structural Properties May Influence Aye-Aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) Extractive Foraging Behavior

  • Katharine E. T. Thompson
  • Richard J. Bankoff
  • Edward E. LouisJr.
  • George H. Perry


The identification of critical, limited natural resources for different primate species is important for advancing our understanding of behavioral ecology and toward future conservation efforts. The aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is an Endangered nocturnal lemur with adaptations for accessing structurally defended foods: continuously growing incisors; an elongated, flexible middle finger; and a specialized auditory system. In some seasons, ca. 90% of the aye-aye’s diet consists of two structurally defended resources: 1) the larvae of wood boring insects, extracted after the aye-aye gnaws through decomposing bark (deadwood), and 2) the seeds of Canarium trees. Aye-ayes have very large individual home ranges relative to most other lemurs, possibly owing to limited resource availability. Identification of limiting dietary factor(s) is critical for our understanding of aye-aye behavioral ecology and future conservation efforts. To investigate whether aye-ayes equally access all deadwood resources within their range, we surveyed two 100 × 100 m forest plots within the territories of two aye-ayes at Sangasanga, Kianjavato, Madagascar. Only 2 of 150 deadwood specimens within the plots (1.3%) appeared to have been accessed by the aye-ayes. To test whether any external or internal deadwood properties explain aye-aye foraging preferences we recorded species, height and diameter, and quantified the internal tree density using a 3D acoustic tomograph for each foraged and nonforaged deadwood resource within the plots, plus 13 specimens (5 foraged and 8 nonforaged) outside the plots. We did not detect any statistically significant preferences for species, diameter, or height. However, results from the acoustic analysis tentatively indicated that aye-ayes are more likely to forage in trees with greater internal (≥6 cm from the bark) densities. This interior region may function as a sounding board in the tap-foraging process to help aye-ayes accurately identify potential grub-containing cavities in the outer 1–4 cm of deadwood.


Food resource limitation Home range Percussive foraging Structurally defended food resources 



We thank the Government of Madagascar for the permission to conduct research and the Madagascar Biodiversity Project (MBP) and its staff at the Kianjavato Ahmanson Field Station for facilitating this study, especially Razafindrahasy Alexander Théofrico (Frico), Kotozafy Gilbert André (Abanky), Randriambololona Stéphan Justin (Tofa), Fanoharanomenjanahary Hubert El-Phanger (Dadah), and Razafindrazefa Elysé Fortinand (Dagah). We also thank John Wickes, Peter Divos, and Akos Smuck of Fakopp Enterprise for their help and expertise regarding the ArborSonic 3D Acoustic Tomograph machinery and analysis program; James S. Solofondranohatra of the University of Antananarivo for his insight into aye-aye behavior and assistance in the field; and Zach Farris and Tim Sefzeck for contributing their compiled databases on the vernacular to scientific name translations for Malagasy tree species. We thank Steig Johnson and Nate Dominy for comments and discussion that helped shape this study; Logan Kistler, Martin Welker, Jeoren Smaers, Andrew Zamora, Rosemary Miller, and Annie Lin for insights or assistance with data analysis; Tim Ryan, Logan Kistler, Becki Coleman, and Stephen Johnson for comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript; and the constructive comments from two anonymous reviewers, the associate editor, and the editor of the journal that helped us to improve the paper. Funding was provided by the American Society of Primatologists, the Pennsylvania State University College of the Liberal Arts, The Pennsylvania State University Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, and the benefactors of Pennsylvania State University Schreyer Honors College.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katharine E. T. Thompson
    • 1
  • Richard J. Bankoff
    • 1
  • Edward E. LouisJr.
    • 2
  • George H. Perry
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Center for Conservation and ResearchOmaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and AquariumOmahaUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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