Temporal Variation in Insect-eating by Chimpanzees and Gorillas in Southeast Cameroon: Extension of Niche Differentiation

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I studied insect-foraging strategies of great apes and aimed to define niche differentiation in their insect diet. I investigated seasonality in fruit-, foliage-, insect-, and meat-eating by great apes in southeast Cameroon via indirect methods and measured activity and nest densities of insect prey. I used a multinomial logistic regression to analyze the data. Gorilla and chimpanzee insect-, ant-, and termite-eating does not correlate with rainfall. Ant- and nonwinged termite-eating by chimpanzees increased in periods of succulent fruit scarcity and provided protein and energy, which might have compensated for the protein-low foliage eaten then. The apes ate winged termites when succulent fruit was abundant. Ant and winged termite consumption by gorillas correlates positively with that of chimpanzees. Ant-eating by gorillas increased when fruit was scarce, but was also associated with temporal ant activity and nest density. Both ape species also encountered more ant nests and trails in that period, as they predominantly foraged for herbs in vegetation types with high ant availability. In contrast, fruit-eating correlates positively with nonwinged termite-eating by gorillas, but again temporal prey availability is also associated. Termites might have provided 1) supplemental iron when tannin-rich fruits were eaten or 2) antidiarrheal properties when gorillas ate too much laxative fruit. Termite-eating by both ape species is not associated with spatial termite availability. In conclusion, there is niche differentiation in their insect diet. Based on the trade-off between foraging effort and nutritional gain, chimpanzees use a high-energy and gorillas a low-energy strategy when feeding on termites, but both use a low-energy strategy when feeding on ants. However, more information on the consumption of ant larvae is necessary to define niche differentiation in their ant diet.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)229-252
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - Apr-2009


  • ants
  • foraging strategies
  • great apes
  • seasonality
  • termites
  • DIET

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