Drivers of geophagy in red brocket deer (Mazama americana) at Amazonian interior forest mineral licks
Mineral licks are key ecological components of the Amazon rainforest, providing critical dietary functions for herbivorous and frugivorous mammals, which help maintain the structure and function of the forest itself through seed and nutrient dispersal. One of the most frequent visitors of interior forest mineral licks in the Amazon is the red brocket deer (Mazama americana), a large-bodied ruminant frugivore and seed predator. While several hypotheses for the drivers of geophagy exist, including mineral supplementation, toxin adsorption, and habitat selection, robust data on geophagy for the red brocket deer for large numbers of mineral licks is nonexistent. We used soil data from 83 mineral licks in conjunction with camera trap data from 52 of those mineral licks and a mixed-effects modeling approach to test the three proposed hypotheses of geophagy for the red brocket deer. We found that consumed soils at mineral licks had elevated concentrations of almost all major and minor biologically active minerals measured, including Ca, Na, Mg, K, Cu, Zn, and Mn. Model results suggest that all three hypotheses hold true to some extent for the red brocket deer, with the greatest support for the mineral supplementation hypothesis, in particular with respect to Mg, Ca, Na, Cu, and Zn. This study provides critical information on the feeding ecology of the red brocket deer in the wild, and the first robust analysis of geophagy of an Amazonian mammal involving a large sample size of interior forest mineral licks.