Journal Article

High energy or protein concentrations in food as possible offsets for cyanide consumption by specialized bamboo lemurs in Madagascar


Plants producing toxic plant secondary metabolites (PSMs) deter folivores from feeding on them. Animals that can cope with noxious PSMs have a niche with a competitive advantage over other species. However, the ability to cope with toxic PSMs incurs the costs of detoxification. To assess possible compensations for the ingestion of toxic PSMs, we compare the chemical quality of plants consumed by bamboo lemurs (genera Hapalemur and Prolemur; strepsirrhine primates of Madagascar) in areas with and without bamboo. Some bamboo lemurs consume bamboo containing concentrations of cyanogenic substances 10–50 times above the average lethal dosage for mammals, and we postulate that animals consuming cyanogenic substances need supplementary protein or readily available energy for detoxification. We compared the chemical composition of food consumed by three species of bamboo lemurs that feed mainly (>80% of their time) on bamboo in the evergreen rainforest of Ranomafana (Madagascar) with published data of the diets of bamboo lemurs at two sites without highly cyanogenic plants (reed beds of Lac Alaotra and the evergreen littoral forest of Mandena) and with food of sympatric folivorous lemur species that do not feed on bamboo. Lemurs feeding on bamboo consumed up to twice as much protein as bamboo lemurs in areas without bamboo and sympatric lemur species that feed on leaves of trees. Concentrations of nonstructural carbohydrates (a source of energy) showed the opposite trend. This result supports the hypothesis that feeding on cyanogenic plants is linked to high protein intake, either as a source of protein or for sulfur-containing amino acids that can be used for detoxification. Owing to the high protein concentrations in bamboo, however, we cannot distinguish between the hypothesis that lemurs that eat bamboo target additional food items with higher protein from the hypothesis that lemurs feeding on bamboo unavoidably obtain higher concentrations of protein than animals feeding on leaves of trees, without an added nutritional benefit.

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Eppley, Timothy M.
Tan, Chia L.
Arrigo-Nelson, Summer J.
Donati, Giuseppe
Ballhorn, Daniel J.
Ganzhorn, Jörg U.

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences\Department of Social Sciences


Year of publication: 2017
Date of RADAR deposit: 2017-11-10

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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