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Indian carnivore eats mostly fruit

When is a carnivore no longer a carnivore? A new study in’s open access journal Tropical Conservation Science has found that the brown palm civet (Paradoxurus jerdoni), a cat-sized tree-loving carnivore, lives almost entirely off fruit and seeds. Studying over a 1000 feces from the brown palm civet during three years, researchers found that 97 percent of its diet was composed of plants, not meat. Given its penchant for fruit, researchers argue that the brown palm civet is an important disperser of tropical plants, playing a vital ecological role rarely connected to civets.

In total researchers found that the brown palm civet consumed 53 native plant species, 4 introduced plants, and 8 plants which could not be identified.

“Brown palm civets carry seeds away from under the parent trees and defecate them virtually undamaged, with seed germination viability being retained or even enhanced in some species,” write the study’s authors, arguing that this species of civets plays a large role in effectively dispersing seeds.

The brown palm civet.

When not feeding on plants, the civets turned largely to invertebrates, eating vertebrates—mammals, birds, or reptiles—only 4 percent of the time. While other civets have been known to eat fruits, this study confirms that India’s brown palm civet is “one of the most frugivorous” carnivores in the world, according to the writers. Only the kinkajou of the Neotropics surpasses it.

The researchers argue that the brown palm civet could play a big role in forest restoration efforts given “their ability to persist in fragmented rainforest landscapes, including small and/or degraded fragments”. The fact that many other seed dispersers are absent from forest fragments makes the brown palm civet even more important.

Endemic to the Western Ghats of India, the brown palm civet is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. However continued forest conversion to agriculture has raised some concerns, since the species appears to require access to rainforest in order to survive.

CITATION: Mudappa, D., Kumar, A., and Chellam, R. 2010. Diet and fruit choice of the brown palm civet Paradoxurus jerdoni, a viverrid endemic to the Western Ghats rainforest, India. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 3 (3):282-300.

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