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Keywords:

  • Community ecology -;
  • tropical rainforest -;
  • plant-animal interactions -;
  • generalist herbivores -;
  • plant chemical defences -;
  • food selection -;
  • ruminant-like digestion -;
  • Colobus satanas.

Black colobus monkeys (Golobus salanas) in the Douala-Edea Reserve, a rain-forest on the coast of Cameroon, have been shown to avoid young and mature leaves of most of the common plants in their habitat and to feed disproportionately heavily on leaves of rare plants. The proportion of leaves in the diet was low compared to most colobines studied, and the monkeys spent over half their feeding time eating seeds. Patterns of food selection were analysed in relation to distribution of nutrients, digestion–inhibitors and toxins in the vegetation. Colobw satanas select food items that are rich in mineral nutrients and nitrogen and low in content of the general digestion-inhibitors, lignin and tannin. They achieve this in the following ways: (i) by feeding preferentially on young leaves, which have higher nutrient content and lower contents of digestion-inhibitors than mature leaves; (ii) by eating those mature leaves with highest nument content relative to content of digestion-inhibitors; and (iii) by eating seeds, which are sources of readily available energy and which, as an item class, are less rich in digestion-inhibitors. Seeds at Douala-Edea appear to contain Ins nitrogen than leaves and C. satanas selects those seeds with highest nitrogen content. It is suggested that seed-feeding may be facilitated by the ability of the forestomach flora of these ruminant-like monkeys to detoxify some of the secondary compounds contained in seeds. Avoidance of most unused young and mature leaf items is correlated with a low nutrienudigestion-inhibitor ratio; avoidance of most unused seeds could be accounted for by their low nitrogen contents. Most items whose avoidance could not be explained in terms of these major constraints on food selection possess secondary compounds likely to be toxic. It is proposed that relative importance of digestion-inhibitors, low nutrient content and toxins as constraints on food selection by generalist herbivores will vary greatly among forests with different nutrient and secondary chemistry profiles.