Systematic data on the feeding behaviour and ecology of the Tana mangabey (Cercocebus g. galeritus) were collected over a period of 13 months in a riverine forest study site on the Tana River in Kenya. A total of 1151 hours of observation was conducted on two study groups, containing 36 and 17 animals respectively. Both spatial and temporal aspects of vegetation were studied. Particular emphasis was placed on quantification of foraging behaviour, which has not been treated as a distinct category in previous primate studies. (Feeding behaviour = foraging + eating.)
Dietary composition varied according to season, but there was also evidence that the diversity of the diet increased as food availability decreased. In addition, foraging increased when food was scarce, as did total distance moved and area searched for food. Results of analysis of major food items indicated that the mangabeys were possibly selecting such items in association with their metabolisable energy values. The conspicuous foraging behaviour and locomotor versatility of the mangabeys, combined with these quantitative observations, support the interpretation that this primate is a “generalist” in terms of feeding strategy, compared with “specialist” folivores exhibiting minimal searching and manipulation of food items. It is suggested that as “generalists” the mangabeys are particularly suited to forests lining meandering river systems, with their fluctuating mosaic of vegetation and food availability.
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