Monkeys and humans share ‘diet control’ habits

May 20th, 2009 - 12:27 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 20 (ANI): In a new research, 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.

The research 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, familiarizing the Peruvian spider monkeys 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 to the laboratory in Australia where they were analysed for their nutritional content.

It is unusual for a study of feeding habits in wild primates to be conducted in this detailed way.

It enabled Dr Felton and her colleagues to calculate how much an individual monkey had consumed and the nutrients involved.

According to Dr Felton, “We found that the pattern of nutrient intake by wild spider monkeys, which are primarily fruit eaters, was almost identical to humans, which are omnivores.”

“What spider monkeys and humans have in common is that they tightly regulate their daily protein intake, that is, they appear to aim for a target amount of protein each day, regardless of whether they only ate ripe fruit or mixed in other vegetable matter as well,” she said. (ANI)

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