The behavioral ecology of sympatric African apes: implications for understanding fossil hominoid ecology

Primates. 2006 Jan;47(1):91-101. doi: 10.1007/s10329-005-0148-6. Epub 2005 Nov 9.


The behavioral ecology of the great apes is key evidence used in the reconstruction of the behavior of extinct ape and hominid taxa. Chimpanzees and gorillas have been studied in detail in the wild, and some studies of their behavioral ecology in sympatry have also been been carried out. Although the two ape species have divergent behavior and ecology in important respects, recent studies have shown that the interspecific differences are not as stark as previously thought and subsequently urge new consideration of how they share forest resources when sympatric. These new data require re-examination of assumptions about key aspects of chimpanzee-gorilla ecological divergence, such as diet, ranging and nesting patterns, and the mating system. Diet is a key component of the species' adaptive complexes that facilitates avoidance of direct competition from the other. While the nutritional basis for chimpanzee food choice remains unclear and no doubt varies from site to site, this species is a ripe fruit specialist and ranges farther during periods of ripe fruit scarcity. Gorillas in the same habitat also feed on ripe fruit when widely available, but fall back onto fibrous plant foods during lean periods. The inclusion of animal protein in the diet of the chimpanzees and its absence in that of the gorillas also distinguish the species ecologically. It may also offer clues to aspects of ecological divergence among early members of the hominid phylogeny. The paper concludes by suggesting likely characteristics of sympatric associations of Pliocene hominids, based on field data from extant sympatric apes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Diet*
  • Ecology
  • Ecosystem*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Hominidae / physiology*
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Uganda