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Keywords:

  • nutritional ecology;
  • protein;
  • fiber;
  • conservation;
  • colobines;
  • folivores;
  • diet selection;
  • minerals

Abstract

Understanding the determinants of animal abundance has become more vital as ecologists are increasingly asked to apply their knowledge to the construction of informed management plans. However, there are few general models are available to explain variation in abundance. Some notable exceptions are studies of folivorous primates, in which the protein-to-fiber ratio of foods has been shown to predict biomass. Here we examine the generality of Milton's [American Naturalist 114:363–378, 1979] protein/fiber model by providing a detailed analysis of diet selection in black-and-white colobus monkeys (Colobus guereza), and applying the model to populations shown to be stable; an assumption not previously examined. Based on observations of two groups of black-and-white colobus in Kibale National Park, Uganda, and one group in a forest fragment, we documented that the animals selected young leaves that had more protein, were more digestible, and had a higher protein-to-fiber ratio than mature leaves. The mature leaves did not differ from young leaves with respect to secondary compounds or mineral content (with the exceptions of copper and zinc). All of the colobus groups selected foods with a high protein-to-fiber ratios. However, one group also selected more digestible foods, and in another group, foraging efforts were positively related to zinc and negatively related to potassium. Previous studies that examined Milton's protein/fiber model did not demonstrate that the study populations were stable. If some populations were not at carrying capacity, then the correlations drawn between food availability and/or quality and folivore biomass may have been spurious. To address this issue, we censused a series of forest fragments in 1995 and again in 2000. We found that the populations in these fragments had declined from 165 in 1995 to 119 animals in 2000. However, based on evidence of population stability and lack of forest disturbance, we concluded that five of the original populations were stable. The biomass of these populations was related to the protein-to-fiber ratio of the fragment's trees. Combining our data with published data, we demonstrate that the protein-to-fiber ratios of mature leaves available to these folivorous primates accounted for 87% of the variance in their biomass. Am. J. Primatol. 62:55-69, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.