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Keywords:

  • chimpanzees;
  • seasonality;
  • frugivory;
  • figs;
  • fallback foods

Highly frugivorous primates like chimpanzees (Pan trogolodytes) must contend with temporal variation in food abundance and quality by tracking fruit crops and relying more on alternative foods, some of them fallbacks, when fruit is scarce. We used behavioral data from 122 months between 1995 and 2009 plus 12 years of phenology records to investigate temporal dietary variation and use of fallback foods by chimpanzees at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda. Fruit, including figs, comprised most of the diet. Fruit and fig availability varied seasonally, but the exact timing of fruit production and the amount of fruit produced varied extensively from year to year, both overall and within and among species. Feeding time devoted to all major fruit and fig species was positively associated with availability, reinforcing the argument that chimpanzees are ripe fruit specialists. Feeding time devoted to figs—particularly Ficus mucuso (the top food)—varied inversely with the abundance of nonfig fruits and with foraging effort devoted to such fruit. However, figs contributed much of the diet for most of the year and are best seen as staples available most of the time and eaten in proportion to availability. Leaves also contributed much of the diet and served as fallbacks when nonfig fruits were scarce. In contrast to the nearby Kanywara study site in Kibale, pith and stems contributed little of the diet and were not fallbacks. Fruit seasons (periods of at least 2 months when nonfig fruits account for at least 40% of feeding time; Gilby & Wrangham., Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 61:1771–1779, 2007) were more common at Ngogo than Kanyawara, consistent with an earlier report that fruit availability varies less at Ngogo [Chapman et al., African Journal of Ecology 35:287–302, 1997]. F. mucuso is absent at Kanyawara; its high density at Ngogo, combined with lower variation in fruit availability, probably helps to explain why chimpanzee population density is much higher at Ngogo.