Influence of Fruit Availability on Fruit Consumption in a Generalist Primate, the Rhesus Macaque Macaca mulatta
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Fluctuations in resource availability occur in all ecosystems. To survive, species must alter their foraging strategies according to the quantity, quality, and distribution of available food. The rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta), a commensal primate, is considered a generalist omnivore and very few studies have addressed how its feeding strategies change with respect to resource availability. We examined dietary diversity and frugivory levels in a group of rhesus macaques at the Buxa Tiger Reserve in northern India across one year. Using behavioural observations of diet and phenological monitoring, we found that although rhesus macaques fed on 107 food items including leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, and insects, fruits made up ca. 74% of their diet. Fruit consumption correlated positively with fruit availability, but fruit preference appeared to play an important role; 16% of all the fruit species they fed on accounted for >50% of all fruit feeding observations. We suggest that afforestation programs involving preferred fruit species at the agricultural land–forest interface would prevent forest groups of rhesus macaques from gravitating toward human habitations and reduce conflict over anthropogenic resources. We further propose that the movement of certain primates in the direction of human habitations may be contingent on resource availability and food preference rather than an inherent propensity to gravitate to anthropogenic areas.
KeywordsDiversity index Frugivory Fruit availability index Preference Rhesus macaque
The authors thank the West Bengal Forest Department for necessary permits. Suresh Roy and Netra Prasad Sharma provided invaluable assistance in the field. The manuscript benefitted immensely from discussions with Dr. Kim R. McConkey. The authors also thank Dr. Joanna Setchell, Dr. Oliver Schülke, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments/suggestions that helped improve the manuscript considerably.
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