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Geometry of nutrition in field studies: an illustration using wild primates.


Nutritional geometry has shown the benefits of viewing nutrition in a multidimensional context, in which foraging is viewed as a process of balancing the intake and use of multiple nutrients. New insights into nutrient regulation have been generated in studies performed in a laboratory context, where accurate measures of amounts (e.g. eaten, converted to body mass, excreted) can be made and analysed using amounts-based nutritional geometry. In most field situations, however, proportional compositions (e.g. of foods, diets, faeces) are the only measures readily available, and in some cases are more relevant to the problem at hand. For this reason, a complementary geometric method was recently introduced for analysing multi-dimensional data on proportional compositions in nutritional studies, called the right-angled mixture triangle (RMT). We use literature data from field studies of primates to demonstrate how the RMT can provide insight into a variety of important concepts in nutritional ecology. We first compare the compositions of foods, using as an example primate milks collected in both the wild and the laboratory. We next compare the diets of different species of primates from the same habitat and of the same species (mountain gorillas) from two distinct forests. Subsequently, we model the relationships between the composition of gorilla diets in these two habitats and the foods that comprise these diets, showing how such analyses can provide evidence for active nutrient-specific regulation in a field context. We provide a framework to relate concepts developed in laboratory studies with field-based studies of nutrition.