Journal of Tropical Ecology

Research Article

Protecting seeds from primates: examples from Diospyros spp. in the Lopé Reserve, Gabon

Caroline E. G. Tutina11, Richard J. Parnella1 and Frank Whitea22

a1 Centre International de Recherches Médicates de Franceville, Gabon, and Scottish Primate Research Group, Department of Biological and Molecular Sciences, University of Stirling, Scotland, UK

a2 Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, UK


The fruit of six species of Diospyros (Ebenaceae) provide food for eight species of diurnal primates in the Lopé Reserve, Gabon. Both succulent flesh and immature seeds are eaten but patterns of consumption vary among the primate species. Interactions between D. mannii, which has very large fruit (9 cm × 7 cm) and seeds (5 cm × 2 cm), and primates were observed in detail. D. mannii fruit are unusual, being covered by a dense mat of irritant hairs that are largely retained, but become looser on ripening, when fruit are abscissed. Primates do not eat immature seeds of this species but do predate on seeds of some other Diospyros species. Ripe flesh (and ripe seeds) of D. mannii are eaten by gorillas and chimpanzees but not by monkeys. Comparison of fruit characters and of feeding patterns of primates for the six Diospyros species suggests that large seeds are potentially vulnerable to high levels of predation but the presence of irritant hairs provides protection during fruit development. Abscission of ripe fruit (shown only by D. mannii) appears to afford additional protection from predation on ripe seeds by arboreal monkeys. These observations underline the complexity of plant-animal interactions in tropical forests and suggest that some fruit characters have evolved to reduce seed loss during maturation.

(Accepted July 26 1995)


1 To whom correspondence and reprint requests should be addressed at CIRMF, B.P. 769, Franceville, Gabon.

2 Deceased.