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Keywords:

  • Primates;
  • Secondary compounds;
  • Feeding behavior;
  • Nutrients;
  • Primate–plant interaction

Abstract

The recent literature on plant secondary compounds and their influence on primate feeding behavior is reviewed. Many studies of nonhuman primates document the extreme selectivity that primates, particularly herbivorous species, demonstrate in their food choice. Until quite recently investigators interpreted this to mean that herbivorous primates were not food limited. This view has been challenged in the past 10 years by researchers concentrating on the primate–plant interaction. Chemical analyses have demonstrated that plant parts are of varying quality due to differences in nutrient and secondary compound content. The assumption that all leaves (or fruits, flowers, and insects) are potential foods of equal value to the primates eating them is refuted. The observed selectivity and preferences of primates for specific plant or insect species and parts are now viewed as strategies for dealing with the nutrient and secondary compound content variation in these foods.