Inter- and intrahabitat dietary variability of chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) in South African savannas based on fecal δ13C, δ15N, and %N



Baboons are dietary generalists, consuming a wide range of food items in varying proportions. It is thus difficult to quantify and explain the dietary behavior of these primates. We present stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopic data, and percentage nitrogen (%N), of feces from chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) living in two savanna environments of South Africa: the mountainous Waterberg region and the low-lying Kruger National Park. Baboons living in the more homogeneous landscapes of the Waterberg consume a more isotopically heterogeneous diet than their counterparts living in Kruger Park. Grasses and other C4-based foods comprise between ∼10–20% (on average) of the bulk diet of Kruger Park baboons. Carbon isotopic data from the Waterberg suggest diets of ∼30–50% grass, which is higher than generally reported for baboons across the African savanna. Based on observations of succulent-feeding, we propose that baboons in the Waterberg consume a mix of C4 grasses and CAM-photosynthesizing succulents in combined proportions varying between ∼5–75% (average, ∼35%). Fecal δ15N of baboons is lower than that of sympatric ungulates, which may be due to a combination of low levels of faunivory, foraging on subterranean plant parts, or the use of human foods in the case of Kruger Park populations. Fecal N levels in baboons are consistently higher than those of sympatric ungulate herbivores, indicating that baboons consume a greater proportion of protein-rich foods than do other savanna mammals. These data suggest that chacma baboons adapt their dietary behavior so as to maximize protein intake, regardless of their environment. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.