Deadwood Structural Properties May Influence Aye-Aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) Extractive Foraging Behavior

Katharine E.T. Thompson, Richard J. Bankoff, Edward E. Louis, George H. Perry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The identification of critical, limited natural resources for different primate species is important for advancing our understanding of behavioral ecology and toward future conservation efforts. The aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is an Endangered nocturnal lemur with adaptations for accessing structurally defended foods: continuously growing incisors; an elongated, flexible middle finger; and a specialized auditory system. In some seasons, ca. 90% of the aye-aye’s diet consists of two structurally defended resources: 1) the larvae of wood boring insects, extracted after the aye-aye gnaws through decomposing bark (deadwood), and 2) the seeds of Canarium trees. Aye-ayes have very large individual home ranges relative to most other lemurs, possibly owing to limited resource availability. Identification of limiting dietary factor(s) is critical for our understanding of aye-aye behavioral ecology and future conservation efforts. To investigate whether aye-ayes equally access all deadwood resources within their range, we surveyed two 100 × 100 m forest plots within the territories of two aye-ayes at Sangasanga, Kianjavato, Madagascar. Only 2 of 150 deadwood specimens within the plots (1.3%) appeared to have been accessed by the aye-ayes. To test whether any external or internal deadwood properties explain aye-aye foraging preferences we recorded species, height and diameter, and quantified the internal tree density using a 3D acoustic tomograph for each foraged and nonforaged deadwood resource within the plots, plus 13 specimens (5 foraged and 8 nonforaged) outside the plots. We did not detect any statistically significant preferences for species, diameter, or height. However, results from the acoustic analysis tentatively indicated that aye-ayes are more likely to forage in trees with greater internal (≥6 cm from the bark) densities. This interior region may function as a sounding board in the tap-foraging process to help aye-ayes accurately identify potential grub-containing cavities in the outer 1–4 cm of deadwood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-295
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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