Frugivory and Seed Dispersal by Four Species of Primates in Madagascar's Eastern Rain Forest1


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    Received 20 February 1997; revision accepted 19 May 1997.


In the unique faunal assemblage of the Malagasy rain forest, lemurs appear to play particularly important roles as seed-dispersing frugivores. A three-month study of feeding ecology and seed dispersal by four species of lemurs in Madagascar's eastern rain forest found that three species, Eulemur rubriventer, Eulemur fulvus, and Varecia variegata were seed dispersers, and the fourth, Propithecus diadema, was a seed predator. In germination trials, seeds passed by lemurs sprouted significantly faster and in greater numbers than those not passed by lemurs. Analysis of fruit morphologies of 69 local plant taxa producing fleshy fruits during the study period found that these fruits fell into two well-defined color categories that correlated significantly with fruit size. Seventy seven percent of fleshy fruits greater than 10 mm in diameter were colored green, brown, tan, purplish, or black, while all fruits less than 10 mm in diameter were colored red, yellow, orange, pink, blue, or white. Three introduced exotic plant species provided exceptions to this pattern, producing fruits which were larger than 10 mm and pink or orange. Fruits chosen by the primates in this study were usually larger than 10 mm in diameter and were in nearly all cases colored green, brown, tan, purplish, red, or some combination of these colors. Morphological traits shared by fruits of multiple plant taxa in the diets of seed-dispersing lemurs suggest possible coevolved relationships between Malagasy rain forest plants and lemurs.