Folivory by a tropical tanager: Species of plants used and the relationship between leaf consumption and fruit abundance

Tomás A. Carlo, Raúl A. Pérez-Rivera, Jason M. Gelditsch

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2 Scopus citations


Folivory, or eating leaves, is unusual for small passerines. Puerto Rican Spindalises (Spindalis portoricensis, Thraupidae), tanagers endemic to the island of Puerto Rico, are known to feed on leaves, but little is known about the possible importance of leaves in their diet. Our objectives were to determine the different species of leaves eaten, the percentage of their diet consisting of leaves, and the relationship between leaf consumption and fruit abundance. We used data from previous studies where the foraging activity of Puerto Rican Spindalises was systematically sampled, and from additional observations made throughout the island. We documented 160 records of folivory, with spindalises feeding on 44 plant species in 25 plant families, including monocots, dicots, gymnosperms, and pteridophytes. Spindalises fed on young leaves of 26 plant species, and mature leaves of 19 plant species. Spindalises were primarly frugivorous (83.9% of diet), but leaves were the second most frequent food item in their diets (8.9% of diet). We also found that leaf consumption was negatively correlated with the abundance of ripe fruit, suggesting that leaves were particularly important food items when less fruit was available. The frequency of folivory by spindalises in our study was less than reported for other folivorous passerines such as plantcutters (Phytotoma spp.) and saltators (Saltator spp.). Nonetheless, folivory may help spindalises cope with human-dominated landscapes and other environmental changes on small islands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-16
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Field Ornithology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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