Does female dominance facilitate feeding priority in black-and-white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata) in southeastern Madagascar?



Although many Malagasy lemurs are thought to be female dominant and to have female feeding priority, to date the relationship between these behaviors has been rigorously established only in Lemur catta, and other ways that females might achieve feeding priority have not been examined closely. Erhart and Overdorff [International Journal of Primatology 20:927–940, 1999] suggested that one way female primates achieve feeding priority is to initiate and lead groups to food, thereby gaining access to the food first and positively influencing their food intake compared to other group members. Here we describe female dominance patterns and potential measures of feeding priority in two groups of black-and-white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata) that were observed over a 15-month period in southeastern Madagascar. We predicted that the females would 1) be consistently dominant to males, 2) lead groups to food sources more often than males, and 3) have higher feeding rates compared to males when they arrived at food sources first. The results were dissimilar between the study groups. During the study, the oldest adult female in group 1 died. There was no evidence for female dominance in this group, and the remaining (likely natal) female did not lead the group more often, nor did she have a higher food intake than males. Group 1 dispersed shortly after the time frame reported here. In contrast, the resident female in group 2 was dominant to group males (based on agonistic interactions), led the group to food sources more often, and experienced a higher food intake when she arrived first at a food source. How these patterns vary over time and are influenced by the number of females in groups, group stability, food quality, and reproductive condition will be examined in future analyses. Am. J. Primatol. 66:7–22, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.