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J Hum Evol. 2006 Aug;51(2):128-33. Epub 2006 Mar 6.

Do "savanna" chimpanzees consume C4 resources?

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Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado at Boulder, 80309, USA.


Several stable carbon isotopic studies have shown that South African australopiths consumed significant quantities of C(4) resources (tropical grasses, sedges, or animals that eat those foods), but relatively little is known about the consumption of such resources by chimpanzees. Here, we present stable carbon isotopic data for 36 chimpanzee hair samples from Fongoli, one of the driest and most open areas inhabited by chimpanzees. These data suggest that the Fongoli chimpanzees consume little in the way of C(4) vegetation or animals that eat such vegetation, even though these resources are locally abundant and preferred fruits are more widely scattered than at most chimpanzee study sites. The homogeneity of the Fongoli results is especially striking and recalls the narrow isotopic distribution of stenotopic savanna mammals. This is in stark contrast to what has been observed for australopiths, which had highly variable diets and consumed about 35% C(4) vegetation on average. Carbon isotope data for modern and fossil Papio depict a dietarily variable genus with a tendency to consume C(4) vegetation. This trophic flexibility, or willingness to consume C(4) savanna resources, may make Papio a more profitable ecological analog for australopiths than chimpanzees.

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