High interannual variation in the diet of a tropical forest frugivore (Hylobates lar)
Frugivores must deal with seasonal changes in fruit availability and changes from year to year, as most species of tropical forest fruiting trees have considerable interannual variation in phenology and many are mast fruiters. We quantified seasonal and interannual changes in the fruit diet in a frugivore and important seed disperser, the white-handed gibbon, Hylobates lar, in Thailand. We used 40-d following data during April and May replicated in six consecutive years to study interannual variability in the diet and compared it with seasonal changes measured in monthly samples of the same size collected in three successive years. The 40-d periods of following also allowed us to measure the decline in dietary similarity with time over a finer scale. We measured fruit diet similarity between replicated 5-d periods using the percentage overlap (Renkonen's) index and Jaccard's similarity index. Seasonally, average dietary overlap between adjacent months was low, and similarity approached zero after four months. Average rate of decline in similarity exceeded 20 percent per 5-d period. Variation in fruit species in the diet between years was high and was correlated with interannual variation in fruiting phenology. The strongest correlation occurred in the case of Nephelium melliferum, a highly preferred species that dominated the diet in good fruiting years. It is difficult to separate changes in food species preference from changes in availability from year to year. We devised a relative measure of preference that depends on the degree to which the gibbons rely on prior knowledge to find sources.