Intratree vertical variation of fruit density and the nature of contest competition in frugivores

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Recently, we demonstrated that the highest densities of fruit pulp are located in the uppermost zones of tree crowns. Since heterogeneous distributions of depletable food is theorized to foster contest competition, we tested three hypotheses involving rank differences among species of arboreal frugivores: (1) In the absence of competitors, species tend to feed in higher strata of tree crowns; (2) interspecific contest competition occurs through monopolization and usurpation of feeding sites in these higher strata; and (3) subordinate species decrease their feeding height and ingestion rate when dominants enter the food patch. To test these hypotheses, we observed chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), red-tailed monkeys (Cercopithecus ascanius), blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis), and gray-cheeked mangabeys (Lophocebus albigena) in Kibale National Park, Uganda. We found that: (1) all four primates fed preferentially in upper tree crowns when alone, (2) dominant species monopolized and aggressively usurped the upper crown when co-feeding with subordinates and the latter retreated below the middle of tree crowns, (3) in the presence of dominant species, subordinate species showed lower standardized feeding height and modified their food intake rates, while dominants were not affected by the subordinate species, (4) subordinates moved down at the arrival of and up at the departure of dominants, and (5) the presence of folivores in the tree did not affect the feeding height of a frugivore, even through folivores were socially dominant. Contrary to expectations, we found that red-tailed monkeys decreased their movements between successive fruits that they ate in the presence of blue monkeys compared to when they were feeding alone, perhaps to avoid disturbing dominants and attracting aggression or because they ingested more semi-ripe and green unripe fruits, i.e., more food of lower quality.

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