, Volume 100, Issue 8, pp 769–777 | Cite as

Relatedness communicated in lemur scent

  • Toni Lyn Morelli
  • R. Andrew Hayes
  • Helen F. Nahrung
  • Thomas E. Goodwin
  • Innocent H. Harelimana
  • Laura J. MacDonald
  • Patricia C. Wright
Original Paper


Lemurs are the most olfactory-oriented of primates, yet there is still only a basic level of understanding of what their scent marks communicate. We analyzed scent secretions from Milne-Edwards' sifakas (Propithecus edwardsi) collected in their natural habitat of Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. We sought to test whether the scent mark could signal genetic relatedness in addition to species, sex, season, and individuality. We not only found correlations (r 2 = 0.38, P = 0.017) between the total olfactory fingerprint and genetic relatedness but also between relatedness and specific components of the odor, despite the complex environmental signals from differences in diet and behavior in a natural setting. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of an association between genetic relatedness and chemical communication in a wild primate population. Furthermore, we found a variety of compounds that were specific to each sex and each sampling period. This research shows that scent marks could act as a remote signal to avoid inbreeding, optimize mating opportunities, and potentially aid kin selection.


Chemical communication Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS) Kin recognition Madagascar Strepsirrhini 



We are grateful for the assistance of the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments (ICTE)/Centre ValBio Propithecus observation team, Jeff Wyatt, Edward Louis and his team of darting experts, and the ICTE technicians for help in capturing the study animals. We received permission for this research from the Ministère des Eaux et Forêts and the Ministère du Tourisme of Madagascar, the Université de Madagascar, The National Association for the Management of Protected Areas in Madagascar (ANGAP), and US Fish and Wildlife Service permit No. US 035632–9. All research was approved by Stony Brook University IACUC. We received critical logistical support from the staff of ICTE, Madagascar Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments (MICET), and Centre ValBio. Finally, we would like to thank the following organizations for funding: Conservation International/Margot Marsh Biodiversity Fund, Earthwatch Institute, the Hendrix College Odyssey Program, Idea Wild, The Leakey Foundation, Primate Conservation, Inc., US National Science Foundation (Doctoral Dissertation Improvement grant No. 0550984 to TLM; NSF CRUI grant to TEG, BA Schulte, and the late LEL Rasmussen, Award Nos. 02–17062, -17068, and −16862, respectively; and BCS grant No. 0721233 to PCW), Wenner Gren Foundation, Seneca Park Zoo, and Stony Brook University.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Toni Lyn Morelli
    • 1
    • 6
  • R. Andrew Hayes
    • 2
    • 6
  • Helen F. Nahrung
    • 3
  • Thomas E. Goodwin
    • 4
  • Innocent H. Harelimana
    • 4
  • Laura J. MacDonald
    • 4
  • Patricia C. Wright
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Northeast Climate Science CenterUniversity of MassachusettsAmherstUSA
  2. 2.Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Horticulture and Forestry ScienceAgri-Science QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.Faculty of Science, Health, Education and EngineeringUniversity of the Sunshine CoastSippy DownsAustralia
  4. 4.Department of ChemistryHendrix CollegeConwayUSA
  5. 5.Department of AnthropologyStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA
  6. 6.Centre ValBioRanomafanaMadagascar

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