Identification of energy consumption and nutritional stress by isotopic and elemental analysis of urine in bonobos (Pan paniscus)


T. Deschner, Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany.



A mounting body of evidence suggests that changes in energetic conditions like prolonged starvation can be monitored using stable isotope ratios of tissues such as bone, muscle, hair, and blood. However, it is unclear if urinary stable isotope ratios reflect a variation in energetic condition, especially if these changes in energetic condition are accompanied by shifts in dietary composition. In a feeding experiment conducted on captive bonobos (Pan paniscus), we monitored urinary δ13C, δ15N, total C (carbon), total N (nitrogen), and C/N ratios and compared these results with glucocorticoid levels under gradually changing energy availability and dietary composition. Measurements of daily collected urine samples over a period of 31 days showed that while shifts in urinary isotope signatures of δ13C and δ15N as well as total C were best explained by changes in energy consumption, urinary total N excretion as well as the C/N ratios matched the variation in dietary composition. Furthermore, when correcting for fluctuations in dietary composition, the isotope signatures of δ13C and δ15N as well as total C correlated with urinary glucocorticoid levels; however, the urinary total N and the C/N ratio did not. These results indicate for the first time that it is possible to non-invasively explore specific longitudinal records on animal energetic conditions and dietary compositions with urinary stable isotope ratios and elemental compositions, and this research provides a strong foundation for investigating how ecological factors and social dynamics affect feeding habits in wild animal populations such as primates. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.