Scent marking in sifaka: no one function explains it all

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Abstract

Various hypotheses to explain possible functions of scent-marking have been put forth and basically fall into five categories: territorial demarcation, ownership of resources, mate attraction, noncombative fighting, and self-advertisement. Verreaux's sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi), like many prosimians, use scent-marking as one form of communication. The goal of this study was to determine the function of scent-marking in sifaka. All-occurrence of scent-marks, scent-mark context, and scent-mark style were collected on 23 sifaka in the Kirindy Forest of western Madagascar for 7 months (September 2001–March 2002). Scent-mark rates were collected using continuous focal animal sampling from November 2000–March 2002. Home range data were collected using monthly censuses and instantaneous focal sampling throughout the 17 months. Scent-marking behavior was exhibited almost exclusively by adults. Scent-mark rates were not related to the number of resident adult males, number of resident adult females, rank, or group size. The majority of scent-marks occurred in the perimeter of the home range; however, less than a quarter of the home range was used by only a single group. Sifaka did not preferentially mark food trees, mark during the mating season, or mark during intergroup encounters. The results from this study indicate that none of the five hypothesized functions best explains all scent-marking in Verreaux's sifaka. Rather, scent-marking may serve different functions for different individuals. Am. J. Primatol. 68:622–636, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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