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Feeding Ecology and Dietary Flexibility of Colobus angolensis palliatus in Relation to Habitat Disturbance

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Abstract

Behavioral and dietary flexibility permits primates to survive in variable environments. It is clear that some species cope with habitat disturbance and fragmentation better than others. I examined the dietary flexibility of Colobus angolensis palliatus by studying three groups inhabiting structurally distinct ranges in Kenya’s Diani Forest. I predicted that the two groups inhabiting more disturbed areas would have reduced food availability and would respond by increasing dietary diversity and consuming greater proportions of lianas and exotic plant species compared to the group inhabiting the more intact area. Forest composition and overall plant part availability differed among home ranges; however, group diets did not differ in their proportions of different plant parts, nor did groups select plant parts in proportion to their availability. Diets differed dramatically with regard to species-specific plant parts, i.e., mean monthly dietary overlap among groups = 10.4%. Contrary to my predictions, all three groups exhibited considerable dietary diversity, i.e., 63–76 plant species, and relied heavily on lianas, i.e., 20.8–38.4% of the diet, and exotic plant species, i.e., 30.1–40.3% of the diet. The presence of exotic plant species in all three ranges suggests that even the most intact areas of the Diani Forest are perturbed and should be classified along a spectrum of habitat disturbance rather than intact vs. degraded. Nonetheless, this study emphasizes that diets can vary considerably among groups living in the same forest, and this degree of dietary flexibility likely enables C. a. palliatus to survive within increasingly disturbed habitats.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. 2012136655, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Nacey Maggioncalda Foundation, National Geographic Society, and Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. Thanks to the Kenya Wildlife Service and National Commission for Science, Technology, and Innovation for permission to conduct this research. Thanks to Paul Opere and John Ndege for their help in behavioral data collection and plant identification. Thanks to Pam Cunneyworth, Andrea Donaldson, and Kelly-Marie Martin of Colobus Conservation for logistical support during the research. Thanks to the editor, associate editor, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous versions of this manuscript.

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Dunham, N.T. Feeding Ecology and Dietary Flexibility of Colobus angolensis palliatus in Relation to Habitat Disturbance. Int J Primatol 38, 553–571 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-017-9965-x

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