Macroscopic inspection of ape feces: What's in a quantification method?

Caroline A. Phillips*, William C. Mcgrew

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Macroscopic inspection of feces has been used to investigate primate diet. The limitations of this method to identify food-items to species level have long been recognized, but ascertaining aspects of diet (e.g., folivory) are achievable by quantifying food-items in feces. Quantification methods applied include rating food-items using a scale of abundance, estimating their percentage volume, and weighing food-items. However, verification as to whether or not composition data differ, depending on which quantification method is used during macroscopic inspection, has not been done. We analyzed feces collected from ten adult chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) of the Kanyawara community in Kibale National Park, Uganda. We compare dietary composition totals obtained from using different quantification methods and ascertain if sieve mesh size influences totals calculated. Finally, this study validates findings from direct observation of feeding by the same individuals from whom the fecal samples had been collected. Contrasting diet composition totals obtained by using different quantification methods and sieve mesh sizes can influence folivory and frugivory estimates. However, our findings were based on the assumption that fibrous matter contained pith and leaf fragments only, which remains to be verified. We advocate macroscopic inspection of feces can be a valuable tool to provide a generalized overview of dietary composition for primate populations. As most populations remain unhabituated, scrutinizing and validating indirect measures are important if they are to be applied to further understand inter- and intra-species dietary variation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)539-550
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2014


  • Chimpanzee
  • Diet
  • Fecal
  • Methodology


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