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Keywords:

  • Community ecology;
  • tropical rain forests;
  • plant-animal interactions;
  • plant chemical defences;
  • food selection;
  • colobine monkeys;
  • folivory;
  • frugivory;
  • Presbytis melalophos;
  • Presbytis rubicunda

The diets of the banded leaf monkey (Presbytis melalophos) at Kuala Lompat in the Krau Game Reserve of West Malaysia and the red leaf monkey (Presbytis rubicunda) in Sepilok Virgin Jungle Reserve, Sabah, East Malaysia have been examined in relation to plant chemistry. Both monkeys spent about half their time eating foliage, and about half their time eating fruits and seeds. They both favoured leaves with high digestibility (due to relatively low levels of fibre) and high levels of protein, a combination found predominantly in young leaves and some flowers. The monkeys appeared to favour seeds and fruits with high concentrations of storage carbohydrates or fats, but not those rich in simple sugars. Selection of seeds and fruits was not correlated with protein content.

An analysis of the fibre and protein contents of foods showed that, on an annual basis, the two monkeys achieved a comparable intake for both items. However, these diets were obtained in radically different ways. Presbytis melalophos was able to eat foliage from many of the common tree species in its home range, whereas P. rubicunda relied on rare trees and lianas. This difference is attributed to the very high density of Dipterocarpaceae at Sepilok, a tree family that provides little food for colobines. The rarity of P. rubicunda's food plants at Sepilok is considered to be the main reason for the greater home range size and lower population density in comparison to P. melalophos.

Finally, the biochemical profiles of the young leaf diet of these two monkeys were compared with previously published information on two African and one south Indian colobines. In many respects the intake of supposed critical components, protein and fibre, showed marked similarities between different animals, considering contrasts in their habitats.