The socioecology of the ringtailed lemur: Thirty-five years of research


  • Michelle L. Sauther,

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    • Michelle Sauther is assistant professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She received her Ph.D. from Washington University in 1992. Her research focuses on the socioecology of nonhuman primates, with special emphasis on how individual life-history factors contribute to variation in feeding and reproductive strategies. She has studied the ringtailed lemurs of Beza Mahafaly since 1987. Her most recent work on this population involves a joint effort to help develop a genetic profile to address issues of paternity and conservation for ringtailed lemurs. She has also done research in Guyana, Panama, Kenya, and Costa Rica. Sauther recently chaired a symposium on the feeding behavior of the Malagasy prosimians at the meetings of the American Society of Physical Anthropologists in 1996.

  • Robert W. Sussman,

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    • Robert W. Sussman is professor in the department of Anthropology at Washington University, St. Louis. He also is Editor-in-Chief of the American Anthropologist. He received his Ph.D. from Duke University and has been conducting research on the lemurs of Madagascar since 1969. He also has done research on primates and conservation in Costa Rica, Panama, Guyana, and Mauritius. Besides primate behavior, ecology and conservation, he is interested in the evolution of primate and human behavior.

  • Lisa Gould

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    • Lisa Gould is assistant professor at the University of Victoria, Victoria B.C. Her research interest focuses on ringtailed lemur socioecology, including field studies of infant development, the structure of male social relationships, and sex differences in vigilance behavior. One goal of these projects is to examine the effect of female dominance on the social system of this species. Most recently, she has been examining the effect of a severe drought on the population of ringtailed lemurs at the Beza-Mahafaly Reserve in southwestern Madagascar.


Linnaeus' original scientific description of Lemur catta, the ringtailed lemur, was based on a living animal brought to England in 1749. Although there were many brief descriptions of wild ringtailed lemurs, it was not until Jolly wrote her now classic book, Lemur Behavior, that we had our first detailed description of the natural history of these beautiful animals (Fig. 1). Since then, long-term field studies, mainly from two study sites in Madagascar, Berenty and Beza Mahafaly (Fig. 2), as well as studies on forest-living groups in captivity at the Duke University Primate Center in Durham, North Carolina, have greatly expanded our knowledge of the ecology and behavior of this species (Table 1, Box 1). Thirty-five years of research on this species at these various sites indicates that Lemur catta is proving to be every bit as complex in its behavior as are many anthropoid primates. This very complexity has been reflected in the current controversies and questions concerning the ecology and behavior of this species.