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Keywords:

  • Madagascar;
  • lemurs;
  • Microcebus murinus;
  • Cheirogaleus medius;
  • Cheirogaleus major;
  • feeding ecology;
  • littoral rainforest;
  • seed dispersal;
  • fruit chemistry

Abstract

The lemurs of Madagascar are known for their extraordinary species diversity. The mechanisms that allow the coexistence of these species are still poorly known. Here feeding patterns were investigated for three small nocturnal lemur species of Cheirogaleidae (Microcebus murinus, Cheirogaleus medius and Cheirogaleus major) occurring sympatrically in a littoral rainforest in south-east Madagascar. During three rainy seasons, the plant species eaten by these three lemurs were described in relation to morphological and biochemical characteristics. All three species were mainly frugivorous and fed on 68 different plant species with small- and medium-sized fruits. A total of 91% of these forage plant species was visited by all three lemur species. Fruits larger than 25–30 mm were avoided. Seeds of a total of 51 food plant species were swallowed and passed the gut unharmed. Thus, even these smaller lemur species play an important role in seed dispersal. There were no differences in the morphological and biochemical characteristics of fruits eaten between the three species, but the feeding height was significantly different between the species. Thus, competition avoidance and niche separation are presumably not based on different feeding patterns of M. murinus, C. medius and C. major in the littoral rainforest, but on different habitat utilization.