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201713Nov17:40

The unique­ness of lemurs is related to the qual­ity of fruits in Madagascar

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pub­lished 13 Novem­ber 2017 | mod­i­fied 13 Novem­ber 2017
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Mada­gas­car is home to a group of unusual pri­mates – the lemurs. A recently pub­lished study pro­poses that the answer to their unique­ness may lie in the qual­ity of the fruit they eat.

Red fronted brown lemurRed fronted brown lemur (Eule­mur rufifrons). IMage credit Luca Santini

The study pub­lished on 31 Octo­ber in the jour­nal Sci­en­tific Reports, saw a multi-​national team of ecol­o­gists and pri­ma­tol­o­gists per­form a global com­par­i­son to test the idea that fruits in Mada­gas­car con­tain insuf­fi­cient pro­teins to meet pri­mate meta­bolic requirements.

The work, led by Dr Giuseppe Donati, Reader in Pri­ma­tol­ogy at Oxford Brookes Uni­ver­sity and Pro­fes­sor Joerg U Ganzhorn, Head of Ani­mal Ecol­ogy and Con­ser­va­tion at Ham­burg Uni­ver­sity, used a large data set of fruit pro­tein con­cen­tra­tions from 62 for­est sites across three con­ti­nen­tal areas.

Pro­teins are essen­tial parts of organ­isms and their avail­abil­ity in the envi­ron­ment has been sug­gested to con­strain the sur­vival of ani­mals. This is why a strict fruit based diet is rare in ani­mals since fruits alone con­tain too lit­tle pro­teins to meet meta­bolic requirements.

Our results indi­cate that the low nutri­tional qual­ity of the fruits in Mada­gas­car may have caused lemurs to dif­fer­en­ti­ate their diet and develop some of the unique traits that we can see today such as the irreg­u­lar activ­ity pat­terns over day and night.

Dr Giuseppe Donati, Depart­ment of Social Sci­ences, Oxford Brookes Uni­ver­sity, UK

Among mam­mals and birds, Amer­ica has a greater num­ber of fruit-​eating species com­pared with Africa and Asia, while Mada­gas­car has very few species that have made this dietary choice. The cause of this uneven rep­re­sen­ta­tion of fruit-​eating mam­mals and birds in dif­fer­ent areas of the trop­ics rep­re­sent a long-​standing enigma in ecology.

Results showed that fruits in Mada­gas­car con­tain lower aver­age pro­teins than those in trop­i­cal Amer­ica, Asia and con­ti­nen­tal Africa. While in Amer­ica, Asia and Africa the amount of pro­teins in fruits is well above the min­i­mum require­ments for pri­mates, val­ues for Mada­gas­car are below the lower limit. This points to low fruit pro­tein con­cen­tra­tions being a spe­cific con­straint on the island, but one that has not become effec­tive in other parts of the world.

Dr Giuseppe Donati said: “Our results add an addi­tional dimen­sion to the exist­ing hypothe­ses depict­ing the island of Mada­gas­car as eco­log­i­cally chal­leng­ing envi­ron­ment for pri­mates. Lemurs show a num­ber of unusual pri­mate traits. Over the last two decades the most accepted idea to explain many of these traits was based on the dri­ving force of extended peri­ods of food scarcity, the low pre­dictabil­ity of fruit­ing and the high fre­quency of cyclones which char­ac­terise the island of Madagascar”

Our results indi­cate that the low nutri­tional qual­ity of the fruits in Mada­gas­car may have caused lemurs to dif­fer­en­ti­ate their diet and develop some of the unique traits that we can see today such as the irreg­u­lar activ­ity pat­terns over day and night”.

(Source: Oxford Brookes Uni­ver­sity news release, 31.10.2017)


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