Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 54, Issue 4, pp 359–369 | Cite as

On the move around the clock: correlates and determinants of cathemeral activity in wild redfronted lemurs (Eulemur fulvus rufus)

  • Peter M. KappelerEmail author
  • Hans G. Erkert
Original Article


Whether animals are active at night or during the day has profound consequences for many aspects of their behavioral ecology. Because of ecological and physiological trade-offs, most animals, including primates, are either strictly nocturnal or diurnal. However, a few primate species exhibit cathemeral activity, i.e., their activity is irregularly distributed throughout the 24-h cycle. Details and determinants of this unusual activity pattern are poorly understood because long-term 24-h observations are not feasible in the field. We therefore used small data loggers to record the activity of cathemeral redfronted lemurs (Eulemur fulvus rufus) from several neighboring groups quantitatively and continuously over a complete annual cycle in order to evaluate various proposed proximate and ultimate determinants of cathemeral activity. Activity data were examined for variation as a function of ambient temperature, time of day, lunar phase, and season. We found that cathemeral activity occurred year-round and that, on average, 3.5 times more activity occurred during the day. Total and diurnal activity increased during the long days of the austral summer. Nocturnal activity increased during the longer nights of the cool dry season. Irrespective of season, lunar phase had a significant effect on the distribution of activity across the 24-h cycle, with most nocturnal activity recorded during parts of the night with greatest brightness. These data indicate that light availability is the primary proximate determinant for the patterning of cathemeral activity. Several lines of evidence suggest that cathemerality in lemurs has evolved from nocturnal ancestors and that it represents a transitory state on the way to the diurnal niche.


Circadian rhythm Activity pattern Cathemerality Lemurs Primate ecology 



Field work in Madagascar was conducted with the authorization of the Commission Tripartite of the Direction des Eaux et Forêts and supported by Berthe Rakotosamimanana of the Département de Paléontologie et d'Anthropologie Biologique de l'Université d'Antananarivo and the Centre de Formation Professionelle Forestière in Morondava. We thank Enafa and Joel Ratsirarson of the Project Beza Mahafaly at the Ecole Superieur des Sciences Agronomiques for their indispensable and expert help with darting animals, and we are very grateful to Gisela Wohlbold and Eva Grieshaber for their assistance in the evaluation of the activity data. Continuous field work in Madagascar and the actimetry in wild lemurs were made possible by the valuable assistance of Rodin Rasoloarison and Léonard Razafimanantsoa and the financial support of the German Primate Center (DPZ), as well as by grants of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Ka 1082/3-2, 4-1, 4-2) to P.M.K. and (SFB 307) to H.G.E.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Abteilung Verhaltensforschung/ÖkologieDeutsches PrimatenzentrumGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Zoologisches Institut/TierphysiologieUniversität TübingenTübingenGermany

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