Behavioural ecologists working in Bolivia have found that wild spider monkeys control their diets in a similar way to humans, contrary to what has been thought up to now. Rather than trying to maximize their daily energy intake, the monkeys tightly regulate their daily protein intake, so that it stays at the same level regardless of seasonal variation in the availability of different foods.
Tight regulation of daily protein intake is known to play a role in the development of obesity in humans, and the findings from this research suggest that the evolutionary origins of these eating patterns in humans may be far older than suspected. Until now it was thought humans' eating patterns originated in the Palaeolithic era (between 2.4 million and 10,000 years ago).
The research, published online today (Wednesday 20 May) in the journal Behavioral Ecology , also provides valuable information about which trees are important for the monkeys' diet, which is relevant to conservation; in addition, it may help to improve the care of captive primates, which can be prone to obesity and related health problems due to their diet.
Dr Annika Felton, a Departmental Visitor at the Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, spent a year in the Bolivian rainforest (in Departmento Santa Cruz) familiarising the Peruvian spider monkeys (Ateles chamek) to her presence and then observing their feeding habits.
She followed 15 individual monkeys (7 adult males, 8 adult females), conducting continuous observations of the same animal from dawn to dusk, and following each of the monkeys for at least one whole day a month. During observations she recorded everything they did and ate and for how long. Where possible, she counted every fruit and leaf they ate, and collected samples of what they had eaten from the actual trees the monkeys had chosen. The samples were then dried and sent
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