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Chimpanzee diet: Phytolithic analysis of feces


  • Caroline Phillips,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England
    • Correspondence to: Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of Witwatersrand, Wits 2050, South Africa. E-mail:

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  • Carla Lancelotti

    1. CASEs, IMF—Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Barcelona, Spain
    2. Department of Communication and Information Technologies, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
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Most primate populations remain unobservable; therefore, researchers depend on the analyses of indirect evidence encountered at a study-site in order to understand their behavioral ecology. Diet can be determined through the analyses of scats or feeding remains encountered on-site. This allows aspects of their dietary repertoire to be established, which has implications both for conservation efforts (by locating food resources), and for understanding the evolution of hominin diet (if used as referential models). Macroscopic inspection of fecal samples is a common method applied to ascertain a primate population's diet. However, new approaches are required to identify food-items unrecognizable at this level. We applied a dry ash extraction method to fecal samples (N = 50) collected from 10 adult chimpanzees in Kanyawara, Kibale National Park, Uganda and also to plant parts (N = 66) from 34 species known to be included in the diet of this community of apes. We recovered phytoliths in 26 of the 34 plant species. Fifteen phytolith morphotypes were only detected in 14 plant species (termed “distinct” phytoliths). We used these distinct phytoliths to identify plant foods (i.e., that they were associated with) in fecal samples. We then validated findings by checking if the 10 chimpanzees had eaten parts of these plants ∼24 hr prior to fecal sample collection; six plant species associated with five distinct phytoliths had been eaten. Finally, we compared plant foods identified in fecal samples from phytolith analyses with plants that had been identified from macroscopic inspection of the same fecal samples. Findings from phytolith analyses corroborate with those from macroscopic inspection by expanding the total number of plant species identified per fecal sample (i.e., we identified certain plant parts that remained unrecognizable at macroscopic level). This study highlights the potential of phytolith analyses of feces to increase our knowledgebase of the dietary repertoire of primate populations. Am. J. Primatol. 76:757–773, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.