Flexible feeding on cultivated underground storage organs by rainforest-dwelling chimpanzees at Bossou, West Africa.
Journal of Human Evolution, 58, 227-233
It has been proposed that exploitation of underground storage organs (USOs) played an important role in the evolution of the genus Homo, these items serving as ‘fallback foods’ during periods of low food availability. The use of USOs as food by wild chimpanzees is infrequent and seen mostly in populations inhabiting relatively arid environments, such as the savanna. Here, we specifically test the hypothesis that chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) inhabiting tropical wet forest at Bossou (Republic of Guinea, West Africa) exploit USOs as a fallback food during periods of fruit scarcity. Chimpanzees were never observed feeding on wild USOs, that is, those that were never cultivated, and rarely on other underground plant parts. However, direct observations revealed regular consumption of the USOs of cultivated cassava (Manihot esculenta), a spatially abundant and continuously available plant, although the chimpanzees did not use tools when acquiring and feeding on cassava. In agreement with the fallback foods hypothesis, our results show that chimpanzees exploited cassava USOs more frequently when both wild and cultivated fruits were scarce, and consumption patterns of cassava paralleled those of wild fallback foods. These seasonal extractive USO foraging strategies by chimpanzees can strengthen attempts to construct a clearer picture of the importance of USO feeding in hominoid evolution.
Adult female, juvenile, and infant chimpanzees feeding on cassava tuber in a guarded field
(photo provided by Etsuko Nogami)
Underground storage organs, Chimpanzees, Fallback foods hypothesis, Hominoid evolution
adult female chimpanzee unearthing cassava tuber in a guarded field
(filmed by T. Humle)