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Keywords:

  • antipredator behavior;
  • nocturnal primates;
  • alarm calls;
  • playback experiments;
  • sportive lemurs

Abstract

Although about one-third of all primate species are nocturnal, their antipredator behavior has rarely been studied directly. Crypsis and a solitary lifestyle have traditionally been considered to be the main adaptive antipredator strategies of nocturnal primates. However, a number of recent studies have revealed that nocturnal primates are not as cryptic and solitary as previously suggested. Thus, the antipredator strategies available for diurnal primates that rely on early detection and warning of approaching predators may also be available to nocturnal species. In order to shed additional light on the antipredator strategies of nocturnal primates, I studied pair-living red-tailed sportive lemurs (Lepilemur ruficaudatus) in Western Madagascar. In an experimental field study I exposed adult sportive lemurs that lived in pairs and had offspring to playbacks of vocalizations of their main aerial and terrestrial predators, as well as to their own mobbing calls (barks) given in response to disturbances at their tree holes. I documented the subjects' immediate behavioral responses, including alarm calls, during the first minute following a playback. The sportive lemurs did not give alarm calls in response to predator call playbacks or to playbacks with barks. Other behavioral responses, such as gaze and escape directions, corresponded to the hunting strategies of the two classes of predators, suggesting that the corresponding vocalizations were correctly categorized. In response to barks, they scanned the ground and fled. Because barks do not indicate any specific threats, they are presumably general alarm calls. Thus, sportive lemurs do not rely on early warning of acoustically simulated predators; rather, they show adaptive escape strategies and use general alarm calls that are primarily directed toward the predator but may also serve to warn kin and pair-partners. Am. J. Primatol. 69:611–624, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.