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Keywords:

  • ovulation;
  • olfaction;
  • multimodal signaling;
  • baboons

Abstract

The probability of ovulation in a number of primate species is associated with both visual and auditory cues. We use 18-month behavioral data from two chacma baboon troops to provide the first systematic assessment of the possibility that olfactory cues are also involved. Using variance in the rate of olfactory inspection by males as a proxy for changes in the intensity of female vaginal odor, we found that rates of inspection were broadly correlated with changes in female fertility. Males inspected cycling females significantly more than anovulatory, noncycling females and swelling females significantly more than nonswollen cycling females. Rates of inspection peaked around the time at which males first started guarding females and were sustained until the detumescence of the female's sexual skin. We conclude, therefore, that olfactory cues represent one component of a multimodal signal of ovulation in chacma baboons. The possible reasons for such a multimodal signal are discussed. Am. J. Primatol. 71:493–502, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.