Food resources of the wild Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus) in high-altitude fir forest, Ghomaran Rif, Morocco



A small geographically isolated population of the Barbary macaque inhabits a high-altitude fir forest habitat (Abies pinsapo) in the Ghomaran region of the Rif mountains of northern Morocco. The climate of this region is Mediterranean, but the altitude (1600–2100 m) causes winters to be cold (as low as -8.0 d̀C) with snow occurring from November to May (snowfall as deep as 1.5 m). The primary winter feeding adaptation is the ability to ingest high quantities of fir foliage; in spring, the macaques took a high diversity of leafy food items from all vegetation layers; in summer, the macaques foraged terrestrially for a high diversity of food items including seeds, small fruits, bulbous geophytes, and animal foods (including tadpoles from small streams); in autumn, the macaques returned to arboreal foraging, primarily feeding on oak acorns (Quercus ilex), fir seeds and yew fruit (Taxus baccata). The macaques were capable of ingesting 100 of 195 (51%) of all identified plant species in the region, although during the four-month winter, the macaques only averaged 12.5 common food items. A comparison of the study area with the prime habitat of the Barbary macaque-the high-altitude cedar forests of the Moroccan Moyen Atlas-indicates that climate and vegetation physiognomy are highly similar in both regions. Correspondingly, there is a high degree of similarity in macaque diet in both regions in terms of feeding behaviour by season, food diversity and specific feeding techniques. In the Ghomara, the winter feeding adaptation of fir foliage eating parallels that of the Barbary macaque in cedar forest (winter foraging for cedar foliage). This enables the Barbary macaque to exploit the Ghomaran fir forest habitat during the cold, snowy winters much the same as it does cedar forest habitat throughout a major portion of its geographical range.