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A syndrome of mutualism reinforces the lifestyle of a sloth
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By regularly descending a tree to defecate, sloths transport phoretic “sloth moths” to their oviposition sites in sloth dung, which promotes moth colonization of sloth fur. Moth detritus, in turn, acts as fertilizer and increases levels of inorganic nitrogen in sloth fur, which fuels algal growth. Sloths consume at least some of the readily digestible algae growing on their fur, presumably to augment their limited and nutritionally poor diet. This important and complex syndrome of mutualisms between moths, sloths and algae may reinforce fundamental aspects of the sloth’s behavior, and help to explain why sloths engage in such a risky and energetically costly behavior of descending to the forest floor weekly to defecate.
Jonathan N. Pauli
Jorge E. Mendoza
Shawn A. Steffan
Cayelan C. Carey
Paul J. Weimer
M. Zachariah Peery
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2014 1 22 v.281 no.20133006
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
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