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Feeding outside the Forest: The Importance of Crop Raiding and an Invasive Weed in the Diet of Gallery Forest Ring-Tailed Lemurs (Lemur catta) following a Cyclone at the Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, MadagascarLaFleur M.a, b · Gould L.a
aDepartment of Anthropology, University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C., Canada; bDepartment of Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colo., USA
In January 2005, a cyclone hit southern Madagascar, including the Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, disrupting the flowering/fruiting cycle of Tamarindus indica, leaving Lemur catta without its major food resource during reproductive periods. We studied two adjacent groups of L. catta during the late gestation period, and both groups ventured outside the reserve to feed. The Red group (RG) fed daily on cultivated sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) leaves in a nearby field, and both groups consumed leaves and stems of the invasive terrestrial flowering herb Mexican prickly poppy (Argemone mexicana), growing outside the reserve. The Green group (GG) spent significantly more time feeding than did RG, and more time feeding inside the forest compared to outside. The members of RG spent half of their time feeding in the crops, and nearly half of their diet consisted of easy-to-process sweet potato leaves. Additionally, RG defended and restricted GG’s access to the crop territory. Of the two non-forest foods, A. mexicana leaves were higher in protein and most minerals (P, Mg, K and Na, but not Ca) and lower in fiber than sweet potato leaves, but sweet potato leaves were preferred by RG. L. catta is a markedly flexible primate with respect to diet, and switches to fallback foods from outside the forest during periods of low food availability. In the highly seasonal and unpredictable climate of southern Madagascar, such behavioral adaptations are important to the survival of this species.
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