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Diet and Use of Fallback Foods by Rwenzori Black-and-White Colobus (Colobus angolensis ruwenzorii) in Rwanda: Implications for Supergroup Formation

Abstract

When preferred foods are scarce, one strategy employed by primates is to switch to an alternative food item of lower quality or preferability, i.e., a fallback food. In the montane rainforest of Nyungwe National Park in southwestern Rwanda, Rwenzori black-and-white colobus (Colobus angolensis ruwenzorii) (hereafter Rwenzori colobus) form a supergroup comprising hundreds of individuals. Over 13 mo we investigated how this supergroup uses resources in periods of resource abundance vs. periods of resource scarcity. Based on 5603 feeding records we first identified preferred foods and then identified fallback foods as those food categories or species whose consumption increases when preferred foods, or preferred food categories, are less available. When the availability of 19 preferred food items was low, fruticose lichens (Usnea sp.) contributed >50% of the monthly diet for the Rwenzori colobus. Moreover, consumption of lichens was significantly negatively related to the availability of preferred foods. Fruticose lichens can therefore be considered a fallback food for Rwenzori colobus that sustains the supergroup during periods of reduced food availability. This result, in combination with previous findings that mature foliage in Nyungwe is of high quality and does not elicit feeding competition, points to the importance of resources in facilitating supergroup formation. However, several other montane forests in Eastern Africa also harbor fruticose lichens and yet support only small groups of Angolan colobus, suggesting that additional factors such as sufficient forest size and limited fragmentation and hunting pressure by humans are required for supergroups to form.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the government of Rwanda for allowing us to work in Nyungwe National Park and the Rwanda Development Board, specifically Antoine Mudakikwa, Innocent Ndikubwimana, and Ildephonse Kambogo for facilitating the research. We are thankful to the colobus trackers for assistance in the field. We gratefully acknowledge funding from Primate Conservation Inc. (grant #001337 & #001444), the University of Western Australia, and UWA Postgraduate Student Association. We thank our sponsors CooperVision, Southern Tarpaulins, SteriPen, Qatar Airways, and Osprey for their generous contribution of equipment. We thank those who contributed to the Chuffed Crowdfunding Project; the support was extremely valuable. For comments on an earlier version of this article, the authors thank Addisu Mekonnen, anonymous reviewers, and Joanna Setchell.

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AM and CCG originally formulated the idea; AM and CCG developed methodology; AM, GU, and DN conducted fieldwork; AM performed statistical analyses; AM wrote the manuscript and the other authors provided editorial advice.

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Correspondence to Alex Miller.

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Miller, A., Judge, D., Uwingeneye, G. et al. Diet and Use of Fallback Foods by Rwenzori Black-and-White Colobus (Colobus angolensis ruwenzorii) in Rwanda: Implications for Supergroup Formation. Int J Primatol 41, 434–457 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-020-00143-w

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Keywords

  • Colobine
  • Diet
  • Fallback food
  • Feeding ecology
  • Lichen
  • Marginal environments
  • Seasonality