Duetting—A mechanism to strengthen pair bonds in a dispersed pair-living primate (Lepilemur edwardsi)?



Duetting is defined as an interactively organized pair display in which one pair partner coordinates its vocalizations in time with those of the other. It is widespread among tropical birds and cohesive pair-living primates, in which it is suggested to strengthen pair bonds. We know very little about the presence and function of duetting in dispersed pair-living mammals. We studied duetting behavior in a solitary foraging, but pair-sleeping, primate, the Milne Edwards' sportive lemur, in a dry deciduous forest of north-western Madagascar. We radio-tracked six pairs throughout 1 year and recorded their sleeping sites and associations, home-range use, and vocal and behavioral interactions. Three different periods were covered (mating, pregnancy, and offspring care). Sleeping partners form long-term pair bonds, indicated by an almost exclusive pair-specific usage of sleeping sites and home-ranges across periods. We explored three functional hypothesis of duetting: mate reunion, pair reunion, and joint-territorial defense. Pairs regularly engaged in duet calling. Duetting increased significantly during the offspring care period. Duetting occurred significantly more often at feeding sites than at sleeping sites. Pair partners synchronized behavioral activities after duetting. The activity most often synchronized was locomotion. Pair partners played an equal role in duetting with no difference between sexes in starting or terminating duetting. Altogether, our results provide support for the hypothesis that in dispersed pair-living primates, duetting evolved as a mechanism to coordinate activities between pair partners dispersed in space, to strengthen pair bonds, and, perhaps, to limit infanticide and nutritional stress in lactating females. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.