Niche separation in Varecia variegata rubra and Eulemur fulvus albifrons: II. Intraspecific patterns


  • Natalie Vasey

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802
    • Department of Anatomy, College of Medicine, Howard University, 520 W St. NW, Washington, DC 20059
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Based on a year-long field study in northeastern Madagascar, I summarize annual patterns of niche use (food patch size, diet, forest height, and forest site) in two sympatric lemurs, Varecia variegata rubra and Eulemur fulvus albifrons. Furthermore, I examine intraspecific patterns of niche use according to sex, season, and reproductive stage in these two lemurs that differ in terms of energetic investment in reproduction. Lemurs as a group provide a special opportunity to test hypotheses concerning sex differences in niche use. Due to their body size monomorphism and seasonal, synchronous pattern of breeding, it is possible to directly evaluate whether sex differences in diet reflect high energetic investment in reproduction by females. Results confirm the hypothesis that intraspecific variation in niche use (e.g., sex differences, seasonal differences) would be more pronounced in V. v. rubra than in E. f. albifrons, due in large measure to the former's relatively high energetic investment in reproduction: 1a) Dietary sex differences in V. v. rubra are most pronounced during costly reproductive stages and involve acquisition of low-fiber, high-protein plant foods. Females of both species consume more seasonally available low-fiber protein (young leaves, flowers) relative to conspecific males during the hot dry season, but only in V. v. rubra females is this pattern also evident during gestation and lactation. 1b) The diets of female V. v. rubra and female E. f. albifrons are more similar to each other than are the diets of conspecific males and females in the case of V. v. rubra. This is not uniformly the case for female E. f. albifrons. This finding confirms a hypothesis put forward in Vasey ([2000] Am J Phys Anthropol 112:411–431) that energetic requirements of reproductive females drive niche separation more than do the energetic requirements of males. 1c) Both species synchronize most or all of lactation with seasonal food abundance and diversity. E. f. albifrons shows a more protracted period of synchrony, and this may contribute to its wide biogeographic distribution in Madagascar. 2) Sex differences and seasonal differences in microhabitat use reflect intraspecific patterns of thermoregulation, predator avoidance, and in the case of V. v. rubra, reproduction. One important factor selecting for body size monomorphism in lemurs appears to be the tight synchrony between lactation and periods of food abundance afforded by annual, seasonal breeding. Am J Phys Anthropol 118:169–183, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.