, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 407-435

Social System of Microcebus berthae, the World’s Smallest Primate

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Abstract

Our goal was to provide a first characterization of the social system of pygmy mouse lemurs (Microcebus berthae), the world’s smallest primate species. During a 4-mo field study of 12 females and 27 males, we combined capture-recapture and morphometric data with detailed behavioral observations of individually marked subjects and genetic paternity analyses of a population in Kirindy Forest, western Madagascar. We describe the social organization of Microcebus berthae as a solitary forager living in an individualized neighborhood system characterized by extensive intra- and intersexual home range overlap of adult individuals within a male-biased population. Male and female pygmy mouse lemurs inhabited home ranges (males: 4.9 ha; females: 2.5 ha) that are more than twice as large as those of sympatric Microcebus murinus. On average, pygmy mouse lemurs of both sexes spent about half of the days sleeping alone. Preliminary analysis of genetic population structure suggests female philopatry and male dispersal. Sleeping associations of variable composition that consisted not preferentially of close relatives and proximity during part of the nightly activity contributed together with regular social interactions to the maintenance of a social network. The spatial distribution pattern of adult males and females, the absence of sexual size dimorphism, relatively large male testicular volume and moderate female estrous synchrony suggest a promiscuous mating system with a high potential for scramble competition. In general, there are many similarities between the social system of Microcebus berthae and those of other Microcebus spp. However, striking differences with sympatric gray mouse lemurs (Microcebus murinus) in female home range size, dispersion and sleeping behavior indicate the existence of species-specific socioecological adaptations in closely related species occupying very similar ecological niches.