According to present hypotheses on the evolution of life history traits and social systems in Malagasy lemurs, nocturnality and infant parking are associated with a solitary lifestyle and a polygynous mating system. However, theoretically extreme seasonality of reproduction could limit the number of females that can be monopolized by a given male and thus hinder the evolution of polygyny. The aim of this ongoing study is to test these contrasting expectations by looking at the social and mating system of the fat-tailed dwarf lemur Cheirogaleus medius. This species hibernates for up to 7 mo, so that time for breeding and raising offspring is extremely limited.
A mark-recapture study in western Madagascar was combined with observations and radio-tracking of 36 individuals during the rainy seasons from 1995 to 1998. According to these data, fat-tailed dwarf lemurs live in permanent sleeping groups consisting of a male and a female (n = 8) or one male and two females (n = 1). One or two offspring from the previous year were frequently observed to sleep together with an adult pair. Members of each sleeping group were the exclusive users of their nest holes and home ranges. During the birth season, males and females took turns at baby-sitting their offspring. Females without paternal help were unable to raise their offspring successfully. Since females did not exhibit oestrus synchrony, the ultimate selective factor favouring pair-living could be obligate paternal investment. The results, together with the lack of sexual size dimorphism and relatively small testis size, suggest that the fat-tailed dwarf lemur lives in family groups with a monogamous mating system. A review of the mating systems of nocturnal lemurs shows that monogamy appears to be the rule rather the exception.