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The factors that influence food choice have implications for animal survival, reproduction and population growth. We conducted a 1-y study of food choice by four mountain gorilla groups that consumed herbs and fruit at two locations differing spatially and temporally in food availability in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. We collected data on 45 important foods consumed by the gorillas, the availability of those foods in each gorilla group's home range and their corresponding nutrient and phenolic concentrations. Employing a linear multiple regression, we tested three hypotheses regarding the influence of food availability and the nutritional and phenolic concentrations of food on food choice. Regardless of changes in herb availability, the choice of herbs was positively influenced by their abundance and sugar concentrations and negatively influenced by their fibre, condensed tannin and protein concentrations. Furthermore, regardless of changes in fruit availability, the choice of fruit was positively influenced by its abundance and negatively influenced by its condensed tannin concentrations. During periods of low fruit availability, the gorillas did not increase the consumption of herbs high in fibre and sugar. The choice of herbs low in fibre had less of an influence on food choice at the location with lower fruit availability than the other location. Our results underscore the importance of incorporating both availability and nutrient concentrations into studies of food choice; by doing so we found Bwindi gorillas were able to choose abundant, relatively high-quality foods year round.
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