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Keywords:

  • chimpanzee;
  • insectivory;
  • termite fishing;
  • ecology;
  • evolution

Abstract

Little is known about the behavior of chimpanzees living in savanna-woodlands, although they are of particular interest to anthropologists for the insight they can provide regarding the ecological pressures affecting early hominins living in similar habitats. Fongoli, Senegal, is the first site where savanna chimpanzees have been habituated for observational data collection and is the hottest and driest site where such observation of chimpanzees occurs today. Previously, indirect evidence suggested these chimpanzees consumed termites throughout the year, an unusual occurrence for western and eastern chimpanzees. Although meat eating by chimpanzees continues to receive much attention, their use of invertebrate prey has received less emphasis in scenarios of hominin evolution. Here, we further examine the invertebrate diet of Fongoli chimpanzees using direct observational methods and accounting for potential environmental influences. Termite feeding positively correlated with high temperatures. Fongoli chimpanzees spend more time obtaining termites than any other chimpanzee population studied, and this extensive insectivory contributes to the list of distinctive behaviors they display relative to chimpanzees living in more forested habitats. We suggest that savanna chimpanzees at Fongoli differ significantly from chimpanzees elsewhere as a result of the selective pressures characterizing their harsh environment, and this contrast provides an example of a viable referential model for better understanding human evolution. Specifically, our results support the hypotheses that invertebrate prey may have figured more prominently into the diet of early hominins in similar habitats, especially given that invertebrates are an important source of protein and other essential nutrients in a highly seasonal environment. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.