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Does nonnutritive tree gouging in a rainforest-dwelling lemur convey resource ownership as does loud calling in a dry forest-dwelling lemur?

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Abstract

Nonhuman primates may defend crucial resources using acoustic or chemical signals. When essential resources are limited, ownership display for a resource may be enhanced. Defending resources may depend on population density and habitat characteristics. Using the Milne Edwards' sportive lemurs (Lepilemur edwardsi) and weasel sportive lemurs (L. mustelinus) as models, we tested whether two cryptic nocturnal lemur species differing in population density and habitat show differences in their vocal and chemical communication for signaling ownership of resources. L. edwardsi inhabits a western dry deciduous forest in a high-density population, whereas L. mustelinus is found in an eastern rainforest in low density. We followed ten L. edwardsi (six males and four females) and nine L. mustelinus (four males and five females) for 215 hr during the early evening (06:00–10:00 p.m.) and the early morning (02:00–05:00 a.m.) and recorded their behavior using focal animal sampling. We found that both species differed in their vocal and chemical communication. L. edwardsi was highly vocal and displayed loud calling in the mornings and evenings while feeding or in the vicinity of resting places. In contrast, L. mustelinus never vocalized during observations, but displayed tree-gouging behavior that was never observed in L. edwardsi. Tree gouging occurred more often during early evening sessions than early morning sessions. Subjects gouged trees after leaving their sleeping hole and before moving around. We suggest that, in weasel sportive lemurs, non-nutritive tree gouging is used as a scent-marking behavior in order to display ownership of sleeping sites. Altogether, our findings provide first empirical evidence on the evolution of different communication systems in two cryptic nocturnal primate species contrasting in habitat quality and population density. Further investigations are needed to provide more insight into the underlying mechanisms. Am. J. Primatol. 72:1062–1072, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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