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Food material properties and jaw loading in wild lemurs

Team: Mariana Dutra Fogaça (Vetmeduni), Nina Flowers (Vetmeduni), Razafindrabe Fabrice (Université d’Antananarivo), Razafimampiandra Jean-Claude (Université d’Antananarivo)

Our current project examines how the jaw is loaded during feeding in two lemur species, Verreaux’s sifaka and ring-tailed lemurs, in southwestern Madagascar. The primary objective is to identify the relevant variables that contribute to jaw loading, and, ultimately structural adaptation, and when these effects are felt, either during food preparation or chewing. Our approach involves focal animal observations, collecting food plants and testing their food material properties (FMPs), and quantifying biting and chewing from dietary videos.

Previous projects

Arid and humid forest comparisons of energy balance in lemurids

Collaborators: Marni LaFleur (Vetmeduni Vienna), Rebecca Hood-Nowotny (University of Vienna).

We are comparing two lemurid species, ring-tailed lemurs and brown lemurs, to investigate resource extraction and use in arid and humid environments. Our approach is to track resource use from environmental availability to extraction. We are monitoring net energy balance by measuring calories and nutrients in foods and energy expenditure and protein flux in excreta.

Lemur catta tooth wear and diet

Intraspecific variation in primate dental wear: the role of environment and diet.

Collaborators: Frank Cuozzo (University of North Dakota, Grand Forks), Michelle Sauther (University of Colorado, Boulder), Peter Ungar (University of Arkansas, Fayetteville).

We have demonstrated correlations among feeding behavior, food mechanical properties, and degree of tooth wear in three populations of ring-tailed lemurs in southwestern Madagascar. Tooth wear and loss are related to dependence on the ripe fruits of the tamarind, Tamarindus indica or kily, that occur to differing degrees in the three sites. Where kily occurs, it forms the majority of the lemur diet, at least seasonally. The lemurs open the fruit shell, which is the toughest and hardest 'food' part in their diet, by inserting it on the postcanines and repeatedly biting it until it cracks. Tooth wear and loss are greatest in this area, and tooth wear is correlated with dietary toughness and frequency of consumption of this fruit.

Bite force and food properties in bamboo lemurs

Food resource partitioning among sympatric Hapalemur species in Madagascar: behavioral, mechanical, and morphological correlates.

Collaborators: Chris Vinyard (Northeast Ohio Medical University), Chia Tan (Zoological Society of San Diego).

Our project examined morphological differences in the jaws of three sympatric bamboo lemur species through investigation of feeding behavior and mechanical food properties and measurement of bite forces. The bamboo lemurs are dietary specialists that differ in their degree of reliance on bamboo and in the actual bamboo plant parts consumed. Dietary segregation was effected by the ability of the animal to generate a sufficient bite force to procure and masticate bamboo food parts that differed in mechanical properties. We found that though the middle-sized lemur, Hapalemur aureus, was rarely seen to feed on giant bamboo culm, the toughest food in the bamboo lemur diet, they could generate the bite force required to penetrate and strip the culm. Prolemur simus, with its more robust jaw and greater size, could easily generate the bite force to feed on giant bamboo culm, which was its primary food. Intriguingly, the giant bamboo contains cyanide, which the bamboo lemurs all ingested and neutralized or tolerated.