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Publication Detail
Limited evidence of C4 plant consumption in mound building Macrotermes termites from savanna woodland chimpanzee sites.
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Publication Sub Type:
  • Authors:
    Phillips S, Scheffrahn RH, Piel A, Stewart F, Agbor A, Brazzola G, Tickle A, Sommer V, Dieguez P, Wessling EG, Arandjelovic M, Kühl H, Boesch C, Oelze VM
  • Publication date:
  • Pagination:
  • Journal:
    PLoS One
  • Volume:
  • Issue:
  • Status:
  • Country:
    United States
  • PII:
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Stable isotope analysis is an increasingly used molecular tool to reconstruct the diet and ecology of elusive primates such as unhabituated chimpanzees. The consumption of C4 plant feeding termites by chimpanzees may partly explain the relatively high carbon isotope values reported for some chimpanzee communities. However, the modest availability of termite isotope data as well as the diversity and cryptic ecology of termites potentially consumed by chimpanzees obscures our ability to assess the plausibility of these termites as a C4 resource. Here we report the carbon and nitrogen isotope values from 79 Macrotermes termite samples from six savanna woodland chimpanzee research sites across equatorial Africa. Using mixing models, we estimated the proportion of Macrotermes C4 plant consumption across savanna woodland sites. Additionally, we tested for isotopic differences between termite colonies in different vegetation types and between the social castes within the same colony in a subset of 47 samples from 12 mounds. We found that Macrotermes carbon isotope values were indistinguishable from those of C3 plants. Only 5 to 15% of Macrotermes diets were comprised of C4 plants across sites, suggesting that they cannot be considered a C4 food resource substantially influencing the isotope signatures of consumers. In the Macrotermes subsample, vegetation type and caste were significantly correlated with termite carbon values, but not with nitrogen isotope values. Large Macrotermes soldiers, preferentially consumed by chimpanzees, had comparably low carbon isotope values relative to other termite castes. We conclude that Macrotermes consumption is unlikely to result in high carbon isotope values in either extant chimpanzees or fossil hominins.
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