Thursday, 9 November 2017

Lemurs are weird because Madagascar's fruit is weird


October 31, 2017

Lemurs are primates like us, but they're the weird cousins. They're found only on Madagascar off the coast of Africa, and they fight by secreting smelly paste from their shoulders and using their tails to waft the scent at their rivals. Some lemur species become inactive or hibernate when food is scarce, and other species eat all day and all night to get enough nutrients. Another thing that sets them apart is their diet—most primates eat a fruit-heavy diet, but lemurs primarily eat leaves. A new study in Scientific Reports sheds light on why lemurs don't eat as much fruit as their fellow primates and why they've developed these odd dietary behaviors—the fruit on Madagascar contains too little protein to sustain them.

"Lemurs are equal parts ridiculously cool and totally bizarre in that they represent the extremes and the extremely strange in the primate world," says Abigail Derby Lewis, a senior conservation ecologist at The Field Museum in Chicago and one of the study's authors. "This study is about investigating why we see certain patterns in the world."

Scientists have long known that lemurs' diets are unusually leafy for primates, but they weren't sure why. Hypotheses ranged from food scarcity to frequent cyclones on Madagascar making it hard for lemurs to find all the fruit they needed, so they turned to leaves instead. However, the new study indicates another culprit for the lemurs' odd diets—fruit that's too low in protein.

Proteins, whether consumed via meat, fruit, or a giant tub of whey powder from the vitamin store, are key to an organism's makeup and survival. Often called "the building blocks of life," they're chains of chemicals called amino acids with different sequences used for different functions, from building muscles to transporting oxygen.

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