Anthropology Publications


Dietary Flexibility and Feeding Strategies of Eulemur: A Comparison with Propithecus

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International Journal of Primatology





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Despite the great variety of habitats in Madagascar, Eulemur has successfully populated most forested habitats on the island. Although the high dietary flexibility of Eulemur is often credited as one of the drivers of its evolutionary success, other behavioral evidence suggests a limited capacity for dietary switching. To shed light on the feeding strategies of Eulemur, we compared the dietary flexibility between populations of this genus with that of another widespread lemur taxon, Propithecus. We hypothesized that Eulemur would show greater dietary flexibility thanPropithecus, which has a digestive system specialized for folivory, and that Eulemur living in dry forests would switch its diet from fruit to other food seasonally. To examine these hypotheses, we performed a phylogenetic least-squares analysis on 10 populations of Eulemur and 7 of Propithecus to assess the contribution of environmental variables and body mass on their dietary flexibility while controlling for phylogenetic relatedness. Eulemur relied heavily on fruit and did not show large variations in primary food over the year. Propithecus consumed leaves and fruits equally and exhibited considerable flexibility across seasons. Therefore, in contrast to our predictions, the anatomical specialization for fiber digestion heightens dietary flexibility in Propithecus. At the intrageneric level, we found similar ecogeographic variation; populations of both genera with heavier body mass consumed more fruit. As we predicted, Eulemur in drier habitats switched the diet from fruit to alternative food more frequently. To compensate for low dietary flexibility, Eulemur mostly adopts a power-feeding strategy by which it increases energy expenditure to acquire patchily distributed fruit resources.


This paper was part of a Special Issue of International Journal of Primatology on "New Research Directions in the Genus Eulemur" (February 2016); Issue Editors: Giuseppe Donati, Steig Johnson. ISSN: 0164-0291 (Print) 1573-8604 (Online).

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