Seed handling in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and redtail monkeys (Cercopithecus ascanius): Implications for understanding hominoid and cercopithecine fruit-processing strategies and seed dispersal


Primates are confronted with an array of constraints in feeding on fruit, including the removal of adhesive, energy-rich pulp from seeds. In this paper, I discuss how primates meet this challenge and present data on the fruit-processing and seed-handling behavior of chimpanzees and redtail monkeys in Kibale National Park, Uganda. These data are then related to these species' services as seed dispersers. Particular attention was paid to the methods by which primates removed pulp from seeds, the density of seed clumps that they deposited (by spitting, dropping, or defecating) to the forest floor, and the distance seeds were moved from parent trees. Distance and density differences in chimpanzee and redtail seed dispersal resulted from distinct fruit-processing and seed-handling methods. It was observed, in general, that redtail monkeys engaged in fine oral processing and were seed spitters: most seeds were dispersed in close proximity to parent trees (84% of spat seeds <10 m of parent tree), and deposited singly (100% seeds spat singly). In contrast, chimpanzees were coarse fruit processors and seed swallowers: seeds were defecated in denser clumps (e.g., a mean of 149 large seeds/dung sample and hundreds of small seeds/dung sample), far from parent trees. I evaluate the factors that shape patterns of fruit processing in hominoids and cercopithecines, and argue that the observed seed handling differences can be attributed to differences in digestive retention times, oral anatomy, and alternative mechanisms by which to avoid the cost of seed ballast.


Sociology and Anthropology

Document Type





Apes, Digestion, Frugivory, Guenons, Kibale National Park, Uganda

Publication Date


Journal Title

American Journal of Physical Anthropology