Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 57, Issue 2, pp 174–186 | Cite as

Arrived in the light: diel and seasonal activity patterns in wild Verreaux’s sifakas (Propithecus v. verreauxi; Primates: Indriidae)

  • Hans G. ErkertEmail author
  • Peter M. Kappeler
Original Article


Madagascar is characterised by pronounced annual climatic and ecological seasonality and harbours a radiation of closely related sympatric primates (Lemuriformes) that exhibit diurnal, nocturnal and cathemeral activity patterns. We collected continuous activity data over a complete annual cycle from wild diurnal Verreaux’s sifakas (Propithecus v. verreauxi) to contribute detailed and comparative data: (1) to characterise their diel and seasonal activity rhythms, (2) to identify factors shaping variation in activity rhythms, and (3) to help reconstruct the evolutionary transition from nocturnal to diurnal activity. We fitted eight adult sifakas from seven different groups living in Kirindy forest with an accelerometer/data logger device and recorded their activity in 5-min bins for a total of 12 months. We characterise P. verreauxi as a strictly diurnal species with a pronounced bimodal activity pattern that briefly changed to a more unimodal pattern during their annual mating season (January to March). We documented significant annual variation in total daily activity, activity time, and activity level, as well as in most parameters characterising their bimodal activity pattern. Despite a significant positive correlation of the animals’ activity time with day length, pronounced annual variation in the phase position of onset and end of activity in relation to sunrise and sunset times could also be discerned. Minor enhancing effects of moonlight on nocturnal activity were only found for the first 3 h of the inactivity period. Bimodality of the activity pattern and the additional reduction of activity time during the cold and dry winter months associated with reduced food availability can be interpreted as flexible behavioural adaptations to reduce energy expenditure. We therefore propose that energetic and thermoregulatory benefits are important factors shaping these primates’ activity pattern.


Activity pattern Circadian rhythm Seasonality Diurnality Propithecus 



Field work in Madagascar was conducted with authorisation of the Commission Tripartite of the Direction des Eaux et Forêt and supported by Berthe Rakotosamimana of the Départment 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 the animals, and we are very grateful to Angelika Scheideler and Gisela Wohlbold for their indispensable assistance with the processing of the activity data. We thank Charlie Nunn, Becca Lewis and three anonymous referees for very constructive comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. Continuous field work in Madagascar and actimetry in wild lemurs were made possible by the valuable assistance of Rodin Rasoloarison and Léonard Razafimanantosa, as well as by the financial support of the German Primate Center (DPZ) and by grants of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (SFB 307/C5) to H.G.E. and (Ka 1082/3-2, 4-1, 4-2) to P.M.K.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Zoologisches Institut/TierphysiologieUniversität TübingenTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Abteilung SoziobiologieDeutsches PrimatenzentrumGöttingenGermany

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