Smelling right: the scent of male lemurs advertises genetic quality and relatedness

Authors

  • MARIE J. E. CHARPENTIER,

    1. Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Duke University, 108 Biological Sciences Bldg., Science Drive, Box 90383, Durham, NC 27708-0383, USA,
    2. Department of Biology, Duke University, PO Box 90338, Durham, NC 27708-0383, USA,
    3. CEFE-CNRS, 1919 Route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier cedex 5, France
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  • MARYLÈNE BOULET,

    1. Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Duke University, 108 Biological Sciences Bldg., Science Drive, Box 90383, Durham, NC 27708-0383, USA,
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  • CHRISTINE M. DREA

    1. Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy, Duke University, 108 Biological Sciences Bldg., Science Drive, Box 90383, Durham, NC 27708-0383, USA,
    2. Department of Biology, Duke University, PO Box 90338, Durham, NC 27708-0383, USA,
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  • Marie J. E. Charpentier and Marylène Boulet contributed equally to this work.

Christine M. Drea, Fax: (919) 660 7348; E-mail: cdrea@duke.edu

Abstract

Sexual selection theory predicts that competitors or potential mates signal their quality or relatedness to conspecifics. Researchers have focused on visual or auditory modes of signal transmission; however, the importance of olfactory indicators is gaining recognition. Using a primate model and a new integrative analytical approach, we provide the first evidence relating male olfactory cues to individual genome-wide heterozygosity and to the genetic distance between individuals. The relationships between male semiochemical profiles and genetic characteristics are apparent only during the highly competitive and stressful breeding season. As heterozygosity accurately predicts health and survivorship in this population, we identify scrotal olfactory cues as honest indicators of male quality, with relevance possibly to both sexes. Beyond showing that semiochemicals could underlie kin recognition and nepotism, we provide a putative olfactory mechanism to guide male–male competition and female mate choice.

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