The Diets of Non-human Primates: Frugivory, Food Processing, and Food Sharing

  • Gottfried Hohmann
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)

Most nonhuman primates have a mixed diet that consists of a wide spectrum of plant foods and a relatively small spectrum of animal foods. Patterns of food selection shift in relation to seasonal changes in food availability. Food habits may also vary within and between groups of the same species for other reasons, such as inter-specific competition and local traditions. Primates practice various forms of food processing and by doing so modify the physical structure of food. Food processing is likely to affect food intake rate, passage time, and nutrient absorption. The diets of Hominids (Pan, Gorilla, and Pongo) are dominated by plant foods. In some species, food sharing is habitual. Food may be transferred between mature individuals (e.g., chimpanzee, bonobo) or from mature individuals to immatures (e.g., bonobo). Consumption of animal food is widespread, but may vary considerably between species. Except for bonobos, insectivory is common among Pongids, and except for gorillas and orangutans, consumption of vertebrate meat is habitual. Hunting and meat eating occurs equally in forests and in open habitats. In forest populations, hunting increases at times when plant food is highly abundant, suggesting that hunting activities are triggered by high energy intake from plant foods. Patterns of meat sharing by chimpanzees and bonobos differ: in chimpanzees, the majority of the prey is consumed by adult males and adult females. In bonobos, adult females control access to carcasses and share meat among each other and with immatures. Information from bonobos and chimpanzees suggest that neither food sharing nor provisioning is causally related to hunting and meat eating. Instead, evidence suggests that food sharing and provisioning have developed in the context of frugivory when primates consume fruits that are large and/or difficult to process. Patterns of food sharing by bonobos offer a model for how a change in the diet of adults could have precipitated to immatures.


Primates diet composition frugivory provisioning meat eating 


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gottfried Hohmann
    • 1
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany

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