Chimpanzee ranging responses to fruit availability in a high-elevation environment

Samantha J. Green, Bryan J. Boruff, Protais Niyigaba, Innocent Ndikubwimana, Cyril C. Grueter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Most primates experience seasonal fluctuations in the availability of food resources and face the challenge of balancing energy expenditure with energy gain during periods of resource scarcity. This is likely to be particularly challenging in rugged, montane environments, where available energy is relatively low and travel costs are high. Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) show extensive behavioral diversity across study sites. Yet, as most research has focused on low- and mid-elevation sites, little is known on how chimpanzees respond to periods of low fruit availability in harsh montane environments. We use focal follow and phenology data to investigate how fruit availability influences daily path length and monthly home range in chimpanzees living in Nyungwe National Park, a montane forest in Rwanda. Nyungwe chimpanzees decreased their daily travel distances during periods of fruit scarcity. However, this decrease in travel effort did not correspond with a decrease in foraging area. Instead, monthly homes ranges shifted location across the study period. Nyungwe chimpanzees occupy a relatively wide altitudinal range and the shifts in monthly home range location may reflect differences in the altitudinal distribution of food resources. Chimpanzee monthly diet was often dominated by one or two species and each of these species were confined to different elevation zones. One important species, Podocarpus latifolius, grew only at high elevations (2,600–2,950 m) and chimpanzees ranged at the altitudinal peak of their range for 2 consecutive months while feeding on this species. Thus, while high elevations are often thought to be harsh environments for primates, they can be an important part of a species’ home range when they provide a refugium for densely distributed, important food species.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere23119
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


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