Chimpanzee feeding ecology and fallback food use in the montane forest of Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda

Jaya K. Matthews, Amanda Ridley, Protais Niyigaba, Beth A. Kaplin, Cyril C. Grueter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Almost all primates experience seasonal fluctuations in the availability of key food sources. However, the degree to which this fluctuation impacts foraging behavior varies considerably. Eastern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) in Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda, live in a montane forest environment characterized by lower primary productivity and resource diversity than low-elevation forests. Little is known about chimpanzee feeding ecology in montane forests, and research to date predominantly relies on indirect methods such as fecal analyses. This study is the first to use mostly observational data to examine how seasonal food availability impacts the feeding ecology of montane forest chimpanzees. We examine seasonal changes in chimpanzee diet and fallback foods (FBFs) using instantaneous scan samples and fecal analyses, supported by inspection of feeding remains. Chimpanzee fruit abundance peaked during the major dry season, with a consequent change in chimpanzee diet reflecting the abundance and diversity of key fruit species. Terrestrial herbaceous vegetation was consumed throughout the year and is defined as a “filler” FBF. In contrast to studies conducted in lower-elevation chimpanzee sites, figs (especially Ficus lutea) were preferred resources, flowers were consumed at seasonally high rates and the proportion of non-fig fruits in the diet were relatively low in the current study. These divergences likely result from the comparatively low environmental diversity and productivity in higher-elevation environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere22971
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


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