Composition and variability of mountain gorilla diets in the Central Virungas



Data are presented here on the feeding ecology of wild mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei) which were observed for approximately 2,400 hours over a 17-month period in the Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda. Aspects of the relationship between the composition, diversity, and temporal consistency of the gorillas' diet and spatial and temporal variability in food distribution patterns are described. Mountain gorillas are folivores that show considerable specialization on plant parts, species and families. This pattern is facilitated by the general richness of their habitat. Their environment is heterogeneous, and spatial variability in food distribution is more pronounced than temporal variability. The gorillas rely almost completely on perennially available foliage of herbs and vines. Their diet varies little in association with seasonal factors but varies markedly in space in association with variability in the vegetational composition of the habitat. Individuals in the main study group shared basically similar patterns of food choice. Different groups also shared a similar general pattern, although there were differences in detail that apparently resulted largely from vegetational contrasts between home ranges. The gorillas' behavioral responses to environmental complexity lend general support to recent ideas concerning the evolution of their social system.