Primate Dietary Adaptations

Course Number: 01:070:609

The acquisition of food is fundamental to survival and is subject to selection pressures. Thus, behavioral, morphological, and physiological diversity among living primates reflect a large range of adaptations to feeding, foraging and diet. This graduate class examines primate feeding and nutrition from an evolutionary perspective. We will explore the diversity of behavioral, morphological, and physiological adaptations found among primate species, focusing on the application of behavioral ecology theory to the evolution of primate feeding strategies. We begin with overviews of the scientific method, evolutionary theory, and nutrition, exploring the nutritional characteristics of primate foods and how primates cope with varying habitats. We will explore variation in the sensory systems of primates and examine the mechanisms primates use to discern the predictive signals in food and how these may enhance foraging efficiency. Morphological adaptation associated with the dietary variation will be discussed, followed by an in-depth survey of physiological responses to variation in nutritional intake, largely as a consequence of fluctuating food availability. We will conclude the course with an examination of behavioral adaptations to diet, including what we know about cognitive foraging in wild primates, humans, and other non-primate species.

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