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Chimps Survive Human Interference By Eating Lots Of Figs

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As potatoes are a staple food to us, figs are to chimpanzees. The fruit is particularly important to a group of chimpanzees in Uganda, according to a new study in PLOS ONE, where logging and other human activities have otherwise disrupted their natural habitats.

In the Sebitoli area of Uganda, the forests where the chimps live are fragmented, if recovering. It's surprising, the study's French, American and Ugandan researchers say, that a high number of chimps -- estimated at about 100 apes -- are able to live in an area bordered by tea and eucalyptus plantations.

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To figure out how these chimpanzees endure in an area still feeling the effects of human activity, the primatologists monitored the apes for 4 years. Compared with chimpanzees living in other parts of the Ugandan Kibale forest, the Sebitoli chimps rely on figs far more regularly; ficus plants account for five out of their top seven food species (according to the pits, stems and other pieces of fruit the scientists found in the apes' droppings).

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Figs, being nutritious and tasty, account for almost half of all chimps' diets, providing protein as well as plenty of energy. Luckily for the chimpanzees in Sebitoli, ficus trees (which produce figs) are dense in spite of the commercial timber harvesting.

Just as the ficus trees are resilient, so are the chimpanzee communities. The study authors note that the adaptability of chimpanzees -- such as learning which figs to eat from one another -- will be a boon to the apes' long-term survival in this altered environment.