, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 321-331
Date: 07 Jun 2003

Seasonal changes in general activity, body mass and reproduction of two small nocturnal primates: a comparison of the golden brown mouse lemur (Microcebus ravelobensis ) in Northwestern Madagascar and the brown mouse lemur (Microcebus rufus ) in Eastern Madagascar

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To investigate for the first time the relationship between contrasting patterns of seasonal changes of the environment and activity, body mass and reproduction for small nocturnal primates in nature, we compared a population of golden brown mouse lemur (Microcebus ravelobensis) in a dry deciduous forest of northwestern Madagascar and of the brown mouse lemur (Microcebus rufus) in an evergreen rain forest of eastern Madagascar. Both species live under similar photoperiodic conditions. Golden brown mouse lemurs (GBML) were active during the whole period (May to December) irrespective of changing environmental conditions. In contrast, a part of the population of brown mouse lemurs (BML) showed prolonged seasonal torpor, related to body mass during periods of short day length and low ambient temperatures. Differences between species might be due to differences in ambient temperature and food supply. Body weight and tail thickness (adipose tissue reserve) did not show prominent differences between short and long photoperiods in GBML, whereas both differ significantly in BML, suggesting species-specific differences in the photoperiodically driven control of metabolism. Both species showed a seasonal reproduction. The rate of growth and size of the testes were similar and preceded estrous onset in both species suggesting a photoperiodic control of reproduction in males. The estrous onset in females occurred earlier in GBML than in BML. Estrous females were observed over at least 4 months in the former, but in only 1 month in the latter species. Intraspecific variation of estrous onset in GBML may be explained by body mass. Interspecific variation of female reproduction indicates species-specific differences in the control of reproduction. Thus, environmentally related differences in annual rhythms between closely related small nocturnal lemurs emerged that allow them to cope with contrasting patterns of seasonal changes in their habitats.