Primates often consume either bark or cambium (inner bark) as a fallback food to complete their diet during periods of food scarcity. Wild chimpanzees exhibit great behavioral diversity across Africa, as studies of new populations frequently reveal. Since 2014, we have been using a combination of camera traps and indirect signs to study the ecology and behavior of wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) in Comoé National Park, Ivory Coast, to document and understand the behavioral adaptations that help them to survive in a savanna–forest mosaic landscape. We found that Comoé chimpanzees peel the bark of the buttresses of kapok tree (Ceiba pentandra) trees to eat the cambium underneath. Individuals of all sex/age classes across at least six neighboring communities peeled the bark, but only during the late rainy season and beginning of the dry season, when cambium may represent an important fallback food. Baboons (Papio anubis) also target the same trees but mainly eat the bark itself. Most of the bark-peeling wounds on Ceiba trees healed completely within 2 years, seemingly without any permanent damage. We recorded chimpanzees visiting trees in early stages of wound recovery but leaving them unpeeled. Only 6% of peeled trees (N = 53) were reexploited after a year, suggesting that chimpanzees waited for the rest of the trees to regrow the bark fully before peeling them again, thus using them sustainably. Many human groups of hunter-gatherers and herders exploited cambium sustainably in the past. The observation that similar sustainable bark-peeling behavior evolved in both chimpanzees and humans suggests that it has an important adaptive value in harsh environments when other food sources become seasonally scarce, by avoiding the depletion of the resource and keeping it available for periods of scarcity.
Publication date (of file/URL)
20 April 2022
2. Biodiversity values integrated
C. Safeguarding ecosystem