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- Behavior and Ecology of Wild Slow Lorises (Nycticebus coucang): Social Organization, Infant Care System, and Diet (2002)
- In this thesis I describe the social organization, infant care system, and diet of the slow loris Nycticebus coucang, a nocturnal arboreal prosimian primate, in the Malaysian rainforest. Data collected are locational data obtained during 1,000 h of radio-tracking slow lorises, behavioral data from visually observing radio-collared individuals, morphometric data, and records on food remains from fecal analysis. Though close-range encounters were very rare, I observed slow lorises to form stable social units ('social groups') characterized by home range overlap and friendly interactions among members and nonoverlap between groups. Four groups were observed, each consisting of a single adult female, a single adult male and a varying number of younger individuals. Group composition, together with relatively small testis volume and natal dispersal occuring in both sexes, hints towards a monogamous mating system. In one case an extended family group formed by delayed dispersal of a primary pair's offspring. Friendly interactions among group members included allogrooming, following, alternate click-calls, and sleeping in contact. Yet, members did not engage in any co-operative behaviour of the types usually thought to be responsible for group formation in gregarious mammals. One important factor contributing to the sharing of space between slow lorises is probably that chances of successful dispersal are low. However, subtle benefits arising from the presence of conspecifics (allogrooming, transfer of information on food resources) may also be crucial for the formation or maintenance of slow loris spatial groups. The infant care system was also notable for the very low frequency of direct encounters between animals. Active maternal care seemed to be limited to carrying the young to the sleeping place and regular suckling, and grooming of the infant. Non-maternal infant care appeared to be restricted to occasional infant grooming and infant carrying. It has been suggested that young lorises depend on their mothers for information on diet and that they obtain this information by watching their mothers feeding or interacting directly with their mothers over food. I tested this hypothesis on a group including one infant and four older individuals. The infant of the focus group only took food items to the mouth which were also part of its social group's diet and showed concordance in the frequency of use of feeding sites with other members of its group. These results speak against diet learning by trial and error. They indicate that diet learning by infants probably does depend on information obtained from older conspecifics. However, the infant of the focus group was not involved in direct interactions with conspecifics over food and fed mostly alone. It was not within a distance where it could see older conspecifics feeding more often than expected from the configuration and utilization of the individuals` home ranges. When feeding in vicinity of other slow lorises the infant never looked at them. This suggests that, contrary to expectations, visual observation or direct interaction over food are not the mechanisms by which information on food resources is passed from older individuals to young, but that other ways of obtaining such information are used by immature wild slow lorises. The slow loris is a slow-moving animal known to have a very low basal metabolic rate relative to other eutherian species of its body mass. A slow pace of life has been causally linked to a low intake rate of usable energy due to a diet that (1) is generally low in energy, (2) is unpredictably periodically scarce, and (3) contains high amounts of toxins or digestion inhibitors. In order to assess whether the slow loris faces any of these three kinds of limitation in energy supply I studied its dietary habits by direct observations of feeding behavior and by fecal analysis. The diet was composed of five distinct types of food: floral nectar and nectar-producing parts, phloem sap, fruits, gums (another group of plant exudates), and arthropods. The largest proportion of feeding time was spent on phloem sap (34.9%), floral nectar and nectar-producing parts (31.7%), and fruits (22.5%). These food types should provide the slow lorises with high amounts of easily digestible sugars indicating that slow lorises did not face an energy-poor diet. Furthermore, I found no evidence for seasonal food shortages: dietary habits were indistinguishable between rainy- and dry seasons, even though most dry season data were collected during periods of extreme drought induced by the 1997-1998 El Nino Southern-Oscillation event. However, many genera of food plants are known to contain secondary compounds that are toxic or reduce digestibility. I suggest that low metabolism in slow lorises is at least partly related to the need to detoxify secondary compounds in high-energy plant diet.