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Keywords:

  • progression;
  • prosimian;
  • strepsirhini;
  • female dominance;
  • group leadership

For gregarious species, individuals must maintain cohesion while minimizing the costs of coordinated travel. Leaders of group movements potentially influence energy expenditure, energy intake, and predation risk for individuals in the group, which can have important fitness consequences. Models of pair-living species predict that energetic asymmetries lead to an emergent leader, with those in greater need leading. We investigated sex differences in leadership in pairs of red-bellied lemurs, Eulemur rubriventer, a monomorphic species with bisexual dispersal and no discernible hierarchy, to determine whether higher energetic requirements by adult females lead to female leadership. We collected leadership data in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar on six groups of habituated E. rubriventer for 13 consecutive months between 2004–2005. To determine whether females led group movements more than males, we examined the difference in leadership frequencies of progressions in adult males and adult females within each group (n = 1,346 progressions). We further investigated the behavioral context (i.e. travel followed by feeding or not) and seasonal contexts (fruit availability, reproduction) of leadership. Group leadership was distributed, with different individuals leading the group at different times. However, females led significantly more than males, a pattern which was consistent in both feeding and non-feeding contexts and throughout all fruiting seasons and reproductive stages. While disparities in energetic status among the sexes may impact leadership in this species, leadership did not differ with changes in food availability or reproductive stage, and thus we were unable to determine whether female leadership might be related to changes in energetic status. Females may have higher energetic needs than males at all times, not merely seasonally, or female leadership may be unrelated to immediate energetic need. Rather, female leadership may be a legacy of female dominance not currently expressed in other contexts. Am. J. Primatol. 74:591–601, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.