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Keywords:

  • primate diet;
  • food mechanics;
  • dental morphology;
  • forest structure;
  • locomotion

Abstract

Periodic episodes of food scarcity may highlight the adaptive value of certain anatomical traits, particularly those that facilitate the acquisition and digestion of exigent fallback foods. To better understand the selective pressures that favored the distinctive dental and locomotor morphologies of gibbons and orangutans, we examined the foraging and ranging behavior of sympatric Hylobates albibarbis and Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii during an episode of low fruit availability at Tuanan, Kalimantan Tengah, Indonesia. We found that Hylobates ranged 0.5 km day−1 or 33% farther than did Pongo, but the overall daily ranging of both species did not vary as fruit availability decreased by as much as 50%. Among gibbons, we observed dietary switching to fallback foods; in particular, there was a progressively greater reliance on figs, liana products, and unripe fruit. Orangutans relied heavily on unripe fruit and fracture-resistant bark and pith tissues. Despite these divergent fallback patterns, the stiffness of fruit mesocarp consumed by Hylobates and Pongo did not differ. We discuss canine and molar functional morphology with respect to dietary mechanics. Next, to contextualize these results, we discuss our findings with respect to forest structure. The rain forests of Southeast Asia have been described as having open, discontinuous canopies. Such a structure may inform our understanding of the ranging behavior and distinctive locomotion of apes in the region, namely richochetal brachiation and quadrumanous clambering. Our approach of integrating behavioral ecology with physical measures of food may be a powerful tool for understanding the functional adaptations of primates. Am J Phys Anthropol 140:716–726, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.