Determinants of gregariousness in the spectral tarsier (Prosimian: Tarsius spectrum)

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Abstract

Interspecific comparisons of mammals and primates suggest that the major determinants of gregarious behaviour are the distribution of food resources in space and time, predation pressure and infanticide avoidance. This study of gregarious behaviour in the spectral tarsier Tarsius spectrum at Tangkoko Nature Reserve, Sulawesi Indonesia suggests that all three may be important in understanding the relatively gregarious nature of spectral tarsiers. To test whether predation pressure was the major determinant of sociality for this species, I mimicked predation pressure by using predator models and playback predator vocalizations. In response to increased predation pressure from rubber models of snakes, the family group was observed mobbing the ‘predator’. On the other hand, when plastic bird of prey models were placed throughout the tarsier's territory the adult group members often increased their distance from one another. No significant response was made by the spectral tarsiers in response to playbacks of predator vocalizations. To test whether infanticide avoidance was the major determinant of sociality for this species, I compared the distance between adult males and females for three reproductive phases. When adult females were lactating, adult males were observed to decrease the distance between themselves and the adult female, while the female often attempted to increase the distance. However, groups containing either a pregnant female or a non-reproductive (cycling) female did not differ in their gregariousness. To explore whether the temporal distribution of resources was the major determinant of sociality in spectral tarsiers I collected insects hourly. The diet of spectral tarsiers is restricted to insects. Distance between group members closely followed hourly and monthly changes in insect abundance. During hours when abundance was high, distance between group members decreased and vice versa. Additional long-term and more fine-grained data need to be collected to ascertain the relative importance of resources, predators and infanticide in determining sociality in the spectral tarsier.

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