Trichromatic primates have a 'red-green' chromatic channel in addition to luminance and 'blue-yellow' channels. It has been argued that the red-green channel evolved in primates as an adaptation for detecting reddish or yellowish objects, such as ripe fruits, against a background of foliage. However, foraging advantages to trichromatic primates remain unverified by behavioral observation of primates in their natural habitats. New World monkeys (platyrrhines) are an excellent model for this evaluation because of the highly polymorphic nature of their color vision due to allelic variation of the L-M opsin gene on the X chromosome. In this study we carried out field observations of a group of wild, frugivorous black-handed spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi frontatus, Gray 1842, Platyrrhini), consisting of both dichromats (n = 12) and trichromats (n=9) in Santa Rosa National Park, Costa Rica. We determined the color vision types of individuals in this group by genotyping their L-M opsin and measured foraging efficiency of each individual for fruits located at a grasping distance. Contrary to the predicted advantage for trichromats, there was no significant difference between dichromats and trichromats in foraging efficiency and we found that the luminance contrast was the main determinant of the variation of foraging efficiency among red-green, blue-yellow and luminance contrasts. Our results suggest that luminance contrast can serve as an important cue in short-range foraging attempts despite other sensory cues that could be available. Additionally, the advantage of red-green color vision in primates may not be as salient as previously thought and needs to be evaluated in further field observations.
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