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Keywords:

  • trichromatic vision;
  • opsin;
  • seasonality;
  • rainfall;
  • nutrition;
  • carbohydrates

Abstract

Here we describe correlations among visual ecology and the physiochemical properties of fruits and leaves consumed by four species of catarrhine primate: Cercopithecus ascanius, Colobus guereza, Pan troglodytes, and Piliocolobus badius. Collectively, their diet was diverse, with each species relying on fruits and leaves to different extents. The mean chromaticity of both foods, as perceived by the green-red and yellow-blue signals that catarrhines decode, was distinct from background foliage. However, selection on the basis of color was evident only for leaves. Primates consumed leaves with higher green-red values than the leaves they avoided–sensory mechanism that correlated with key nutritional variables, such as increased protein and reduced toughness. Moreover, the monkeys ingested leaves near dusk, when reddish targets may be more salient. Similar patterns were never observed with respect to edible fruits, the chromaticities of which did not differ from unconsumed fruits or correlate with nutritional properties. We also found that primate biomass is higher in seasonal sites. We conclude that these findings are consistent with the notion that routine trichromatic vision evolved in a context where seasonal folivory was pivotal to survival. Am. J. Primatol. 62:189-207, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.