, Volume 58, Issue 6, pp 587-596
Date: 05 May 2005

Spacing and group coordination in a nocturnal primate, the golden brown mouse lemur (Microcebus ravelobensis ): the role of olfactory and acoustic signals

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In order to remain stable, dispersed social groups have to solve two fundamental problems: the coordination of movement and cohesiveness within a group and the spacing between the groups. Here, we investigate mechanisms involved in intra-group coordination and inter-group spacing using the golden brown mouse lemur, Microcebus ravelobensis, as a model for a nocturnal, solitary foraging mammal with a dispersed social system. By means of radiotelemetry and bioacoustics we studied the olfactory and vocal behaviour during nocturnal dispersal and reunion of five sleeping groups.

All groups used 3–17 sleeping sites exclusively, suggesting a sleeping site-related territoriality and competition for them. The occurrence of olfactory and vocal behaviour showed an asymmetrical temporal distribution. Whereas marking behaviour was observed exclusively during dispersal, a particular call type, the trill, was used by all groups during reunions. Interestingly, these trills carried group-specific signatures.

Our findings provide the first empirical evidence for nocturnal primates in a natural environment that olfactory signals represent an important mechanism to regulate the distribution of different groups in space, whereas acoustic signals control intra-group cohesion and coordination.