Sugar concentration of fruits and their detection via color in the Central American spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi)



Although most arguments explaining the predominance of polymorphic color vision in platyrrhine monkeys are linked to the advantage of trichromacy over dichromacy for foraging for ripe fruits, little information exists on the relationship between nutritional reward and performance in fruit detection with different types of color vision. The principal reward of most fruits is sugar, and thus it seems logical to investigate whether fruit coloration provides a long-distance sensory cue to primates that correlates with sugar content. Here we test the hypothesis that fruit detection performance via trichromatic color vision phenotypes provides better information regarding sugar concentration than dichromatic phenotypes (i.e., is a color vision phenotype with sufficient red-green (RG) differentiation necessary to “reveal” the concentration of major sugars in fruits?). Accordingly, we studied the fruit foraging behavior of Ateles geoffroyi by measuring both the reflectance spectra and the concentrations of major sugars in the consumed fruits. We modeled detection performance with different color phenotypes. Our results provide some support for the hypothesis. The yellow-blue (YB) color signal, which is the only one available to dichromats, was not significantly related to sugar concentration. The RG color vision signal, which is present only in trichromats, was significantly correlated with sugar content, but only when the latter was defined by glucose. There was in fact a consistent negative relationship between fruit detection performance and sucrose concentration, although this was not significant for the 430 nm and 550 nm phenotypes. The regular trichromatic phenotypes (430 nm, 533 nm, and 565 nm) showed higher correlations between fruit performance and glucose concentration than the other two trichromatic phenotypes. Our study documents a trichromatic foraging advantage in terms of fruit quality, and suggests that trichromatic color vision is advantageous over dichromatic color vision for detecting sugar-rich fruits. Am. J. Primatol. 67:411–423, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.