Feeding habitat quality and behavioral trade-offs in chimpanzees: A case for species distribution models

Steffen Foerster, Ying Zhong, Lilian Pintea, Carson M. Murray, Michael L Wilson, Deus C. Mjungu, Anne E. Pusey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The distribution and abundance of food resources are among the most important factors that influence animal behavioral strategies. Yet, spatial variation in feeding habitat quality is often difficult to assess with traditional methods that rely on extrapolation from plot survey data or remote sensing. Here, we show that maximum entropy species distribution modeling can be used to successfully predict small-scale variation in the distribution of 24 important plant food species for chimpanzees at Gombe National Park, Tanzania. We combined model predictions with behavioral observations to quantify feeding habitat quality as the cumulative dietary proportion of the species predicted to occur in a given location. This measure exhibited considerable spatial heterogeneity with elevation and latitude, both within and across main habitat types. We used model results to assess individual variation in habitat selection among adult chimpanzees during a 10-year period, testing predictions about trade-offs between foraging and reproductive effort. We found that nonswollen females selected the highest-quality habitats compared with swollen females or males, in line with predictions based on their energetic needs. Swollen females appeared to compromise feeding in favor of mating opportunities, suggesting that females rather than males change their ranging patterns in search of mates. Males generally occupied feeding habitats of lower quality, which may exacerbate energetic challenges of aggression and territory defense. Finally, we documented an increase in feeding habitat quality with community residence time in both sexes during the dry season, suggesting an influence of familiarity on foraging decisions in a highly heterogeneous landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1004-1016
Number of pages13
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Jane Goodall Institute, Harris Steel Group, Windibrow Foundation, University of Minnesota, McKnight Foundation, Duke University, National Institutes of Health (R01-AI058715), and National Science Foundation (BCS-0452315; BSC-0648481; IIS-0431141; IOS-LTREB1052693).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Author.


  • Animal ecology
  • environmental heterogeneity
  • habitat selection
  • primate behavior
  • species distribution models


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