Anatomy and dietary specialization influence sensory behaviour among sympatric primates

Amanda D. Melin, Carrie C. Veilleux, Mareike C. Janiak, Chihiro Hiramatsu, Karem G. Sánchez-Solano, Ingrid K. Lundeen, Shasta E. Webb, Rachel E. Williamson, Megan A. Mah, Evin Murillo-Chacon, Colleen M. Schaffner, Laura Hernández-Salazar, Filippo Aureli, Shoji Kawamura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Senses form the interface between animals and environments, and provide a window into the ecology of past and present species. However, research on sensory behaviours by wild frugivores is sparse. Here, we examine fruit assessment by three sympatric primates (Alouatta palliata, Ateles geoffroyi and Cebus imitator) to test the hypothesis that dietary and sensory specialization shape foraging behaviours. Ateles and Cebus groups are comprised of dichromats and trichromats, while all Alouatta are trichomats. We use anatomical proxies to examine smell, taste and manual touch, and opsin genotyping to assess colour vision. We find that the frugivorous spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) sniff fruits most often, omnivorous capuchins (Cebus imitator), the species with the highest manual dexterity, use manual touch most often, and that main olfactory bulb volume is a better predictor of sniffing behaviour than nasal turbinate surface area. We also identify an interaction between colour vision phenotype and use of other senses. Controlling for species, dichromats sniff and bite fruits more often than trichromats, and trichromats use manual touch to evaluate cryptic fruits more often than dichromats. Our findings reveal new relationships among dietary specialization, anatomical variation and foraging behaviour, and promote understanding of sensory system evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20220847
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1981
Publication statusPublished - Aug 31 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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