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Keywords:

  • seasonality;
  • day length;
  • food enhancement;
  • raiding;
  • commensalism;
  • diet;
  • activity budgets;
  • foraging strategies

Abstract

We examined the effects of extreme seasonality on the activity budget and diet of wild chacma baboons with access to a high-quality, human-derived food source. The Cape Peninsula of South Africa is unusual among nonhuman primate habitats due to its seasonal extremes in day length and climate. Winter days are markedly shorter and colder than summer days but have higher rainfall and higher primary production of annually flowering plants. This combination of fewer daylight hours but higher rainfall is substantially different from the ecological constraints faced by both equatorial baboon populations and those living in temperate climates with summer rainfall. We sought to understand how these seasonal differences affect time budgets of food-enhanced troops in comparison to both other food-enhanced troops and wild foraging troops at similar latitudes. Our results revealed significant seasonal differences in activity budget and diet, a finding that contrasts with other baboon populations with access to high-return anthropogenic foods. Similar to nonprovisioned troops at similar latitudes, troop members spent more time feeding, socializing, and traveling during the long summer days compared to the short winter days, and proportionately more time feeding and less time resting in summer compared to winter. Summer diets consisted mainly of fynbos and nonindigenous foods, whereas winter diets were dominated by annually flowering plants (mainly grasses) and ostrich pellets raided from a nearby ostrich farm. In this case, food enhancement may have effectively exaggerated seasonal differences in activity budgets by providing access to a high-return food (ostrich pellets) that was spatially and temporally coincident with abundant winter fallback foods (grasses). The frequent use of both alien vegetation and high-return, human-derived foods highlights the dietary flexibility of baboons as a key element of their overall success in rapidly transforming environments such as the South African Cape Peninsula. Am. J. Primatol. 72:104–112, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.