Nutritional correlates of the “lean season”: Effects of seasonality and frugivory on the nutritional ecology of diademed sifakas


  • Mitchell T. Irwin,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL
    • Correspondence to: M.T. Irwin, Department of Anthropology, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115. E-mail:

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  • Jean-Luc Raharison,

    1. Department of Animal Biology, University of Antananarivo, Antananarivo, Madagascar
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  • David Raubenheimer,

    1. Charles Perkins Centre Faculty of Veterinary Science and School of Biological Sciences, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia
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  • Colin A. Chapman,

    1. Department of Anthropology and McGill School of Environment, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
    2. Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY
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  • Jessica M. Rothman

    1. Department of Anthropology Hunter College, City University of New York, New York, NY
    2. New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology, New York, NY
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Primate field studies often identify “lean seasons,” when preferred foods are scarce, and lower-quality, abundant foods (fallback foods) are consumed. Here, we quantify the nutritional implications of these terms for two diademed sifaka groups (Propithecus diadema) in Madagascar, using detailed feeding observations and chemical analyses of foods. In particular, we sought to understand 1) how macronutrient and energy intakes vary seasonally, including whether these intakes respond in similar or divergent ways; 2) how the amount of food ingested varies seasonally (including whether changes in amount eaten may compensate for altered food quality); and 3) correlations between these variables and the degree of frugivory. In the lean season, sifakas shifted to non-fruit foods (leaves and flowers), which tended to be high in protein while low in other macronutrients and energy, but the average composition of the most used foods in each season was similar. They also showed dramatic decreases in feeding time, food ingested, and consequently, daily intake of macronutrients and energy. The degree of frugivory in the daily diet was a strong positive predictor of feeding time, amount ingested and all macronutrient and energy intakes, though season had an independent effect. These results suggest that factors restricting how much food can be eaten (e.g., handling time, availability, or intrinsic characteristics like fiber and plant secondary metabolites) can be more important than the nutritional composition of foods themselves in determining nutritional outcomes—a finding with relevance for understanding seasonal changes in behavior, life history strategies, competitive regimes, and conservation planning. Am J Phys Anthropol 153:78–91, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.