On the importance of fruit in primate diets

Submitted by editor on 15 January 2014.

How does fruit-eating relate to body size and geographic range? Find out in the Early View paper “Ecological correlates of trophic status and frugivory in neotropical primates” by Joseph E. Hawes and Carlos A. Peres.

Below is their summary of the study:
A good understanding of non-human primate diets in the wild is vitally important for the conservation planning of threatened species, with forest habitat loss and severe forest degradation a major concern throughout the New World tropics. It is also critical to help evaluate the roles of primates within forest food webs, particularly as seed dispersers for tropical forest plants. Fruit eating is widespread amongst primates although they are rarely entirely frugivorous, with insects, gums and leaves providing alternative food sources.

To explore this variation, we reviewed a comprehensive compilation of 290 primate dietary studies from 164 localities in 17 countries across the entire Neotropical realm. Sampling effort varies considerably between sites and species (Hawes et al. 2013), which we accounted for here when comparing the taxonomic richness of fruiting plants recorded in primate diets, and the relative contribution of frugivory to the overall diet. We also found strong evidence to support the long-held hypothesis that body size imposes an upper limit on insectivory and a lower limit on folivory, and therefore that frugivory is most important at intermediate body sizes.

One of our most surprising finds was that primates with wide geographic ranges do not necessarily consume a wider diversity of fruits, perhaps because these species tend to be generalist consumers. Another surprise was that primates with higher prevalence of fruit in their diets are among the most poorly studied, meaning we still have a lot to learn about their importance as consumers and seed dispersers in tropical forests.

Image credits:

Saguinus oedipus: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cottontop_tamarin.JPG
Pithecia irrorata: © Edgard Collado
Alouatta guariba: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Southern_brown_howler_monkey_fema...


Hawes, J.E., Calouro, A.M. & Peres, C.A. (2013). Sampling effort in neotropical primate diet studies: collective gains and underlying geographic and taxonomic biases. International Journal of Primatology. DOI: 10.1007/s10764-013-9738-0 (in press).