The ability of animals to adapt to changing environments is critical for survival. One key adaptation is dietary flexibility, which allows species to survive when preferred food sources become scarce. A recent study examines the dietary flexibility of orangutans in Borneo, revealing a surprising level of adaptability.

During periods of fruit scarcity, orangutans switch to a diet of bark and leaves. This dietary shift was previously thought to be a sign of stress. However, the study found no evidence of nutritional stress in orangutans during these periods. Instead, orangutans maintain their body mass and reproductive health, suggesting they adapt to these dietary changes without adverse effects.

The study also indicates that orangutans have a unique gut microbiome that changes with diet. During periods of fruit abundance, their gut bacteria is similar to that of fruit-eating animals. When they switch to a diet of bark and leaves, their gut bacteria resembles that of leaf-eating animals. This dynamic gut microbiome may help orangutans adapt to dietary changes.

These findings challenge the view that dietary flexibility is a sign of stress in wild animals. Instead, it could be a crucial adaptation that allows species to survive in changing environments. This has important implications for conservation strategies, suggesting that preserving a range of food sources is key to the survival of adaptable species like orangutans.

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