Together alone: Sportive lemurs stay individualists in relationships

Nov 19, 2013
A white-footed sportive lemur in his nest. Credit: Iris Dröscher

During a one-year field study in Southern Madagascar the two researchers discovered that nocturnal white-footed sportive lemurs (Lepilemur leucopus) share a common territory with a pair partner of the opposite sex. This result clarified conflicting earlier reports on the social organization of this species. The study of the DPZ researchers also revealed a specific type of relationship model that has not yet been described for other pair-living species. Although males and females live together also outside the brief annual mating season and defend a common territory together, they were never observed to huddle or to groom each other during the more than 1,500 hours of observation. "This species is characterized by an active avoidance of pair partners," says Iris Dröscher, first author and PhD student at the Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit of the DPZ. 

For their research the scientists observed a population of white-footed sportive lemurs at the Berenty Reserve and followed their movements via radio collars. They found that social interaction between couples are limited to mating once a year. "For primates, grooming is an important that strengthens the relationship between individuals. But it does not exist in white-footed sportive lemur couples," explains Iris Dröscher. "Even for sleeping, the partners choose separate trees and never spend any time together." The most elaborate social interactions of white-footed sportive lemur pair partners consist of just sitting next to each other at a small distance.

As interactions with many individuals in different contexts create cognitive challenges for animals, social complexity is regarded as an essential motor for the evolution of intelligence in primates. "White-footed sportive lemurs are characterized by a minimum of ; they really define the baseline among primates", says principle investigator Peter Kappeler.

Possible explanations for why sportive lemurs are pair-living at all are currently being explored: Perhaps males can monopolize at least one female for themselves that way. Alternatively, males may stay in the vicinity of their offspring to protect them from infanticidal rivals.

Explore further: DNA samples from fungi collections provide key to mushroom 'tree of life'

Related Stories

Madagascar lemurs top endangered primates list

Oct 15, 2012

In the hit cartoon film "Madagascar", the island's lemurs are a lovable bunch of extroverts, but they are also among the world's most threatened primates, conservationists warned on Monday.

Scratching the surface of social interaction

Mar 26, 2012

It can be difficult to uncover the behavior of small, shy, nocturnal primates like the brown mouse lemur (Microcebus rufus), especially in the dense rainforests of Madagascar where this lemur lives. New re ...

Recommended for you

Estuaries protect Dungeness crabs from deadly parasites

18 hours ago

Parasitic worms can pose a serious threat to the Dungeness crab, a commercially important fishery species found along the west coast of North America. The worms are thought to have caused or contributed to ...

An evolutionary heads-up—the brain size advantage

19 hours ago

A larger brain brings better cognitive performance. And so it seems only logical that a larger brain would offer a higher survival potential. In the course of evolution, large brains should therefore win ...

Our bond with dogs may go back more than 27,000 years

May 21, 2015

Dogs' special relationship to humans may go back 27,000 to 40,000 years, according to genomic analysis of an ancient Taimyr wolf bone reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 21. Earlier genome ...

Social structure 'helps birds avoid a collision course'

May 21, 2015

The sight of skilful aerial manoeuvring by flocks of Greylag geese to avoid collisions with York's Millennium Bridge intrigued mathematical biologist Dr Jamie Wood. It raised the question of how birds collectively ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.