Mineral content as a basis for food selection by western lowland gorillas in a forest clearing



The forests in northwest Republic of Congo contain a number of herbaceous swamp clearings that provide foraging sites for lowland gorillas (G.g. gorilla). A 10-month study at the Maya Nord clearing (Parc National d'Odzala) showed that feeding activities occupied 72% of the time visiting gorillas spent on the clearing. They fed on four plant species: Enydra fluctuans (Asteraceae), Cyperus sp., Pycreus mundtii, and Rhynchospora corymbosa (Cyperaceae) among the 45 species recorded on the clearing. These clearing food species have higher mineral contents (especially Na and Ca) than the dominant Marantaceae species (Haumania liebrechtsiana) that constituted a staple food plant for gorillas in this forest. They also have higher potassium contents and contain less lignin than non-eaten clearing items/species. Finally, the most actively searched for clearing food (Enydra fluctuans) was characterized by the highest amount of Na and Ca. These results suggest that the mineral content (especially in Na, Ca, and/or K) could determine the feeding selectivity of gorillas at the clearing. They also tend to confirm that the amount of fiber plays a deterrent role in food selectivity, as has been found by many authors. The high density of gorillas in that region could result from the combination of the large areas of Marantaceae forests that provide abundant though monotonous food, and the number of clearings that provide sufficient mineral supplies. Clearings should thus be considered as key habitats for the conservation of gorillas. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.