Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 77–90 | Cite as

Sex in the dark: determinants and consequences of mixed male mating tactics in Microcebus murinus, a small solitary nocturnal primate

  • Manfred EberleEmail author
  • Peter M. Kappeler
Original Article


In mammals with solitary females, the potential for males to monopolize matings is relatively low, and scramble competition polygyny is presumed to be the predominant mating system. However, combinations of male traits and mating tactics within this type of polygyny have been described. The main aim of our study was to identify the relative importance of, and interactions among, potential determinants of contrasting male reproductive tactics, and to determine their consequences for male reproductive success in a small solitary nocturnal Malagasy primate, the gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus). We studied their mating behavior over three consecutive annual mating seasons. In addition, we determined the genetic relationships among more than 300 study animals to quantify the reproductive success of individual males. We found that, with a given relatively low overall monopolization potential, successful male mouse lemurs roamed extensively in search of mates, had superior finding ability and mated as early as possible. However, contest competition was important too, as temporary monopolization was also possible. Males exhibited different mating tactics, and heavier males had a higher reproductive success, although most litters had mixed paternities. Switching between tactics depended on short-term local variation in monopolization potential determined by a pronounced dynamic in fertilization probability, number of alternative mating opportunities, and the operational sex ratio. This study also revealed that the dynamics of these determinants, as well as the mutual interactions between them, necessitate a detailed knowledge of the mating behavior of a species to infer the impact of determinants of alternative mating tactics.


Polygyny Alternative reproductive tactics Mixed paternity Sperm competition Microcebus 



We thank Berthe Rakotosamimanana (Département de Paléontologie et d’Anthropologie Biologique de l’Université d’Antananarivo), Olga Ramilijaona and Daniel Rakotondravony (Département de Biologie Animale, Université d’Antananarivo), Lucien Rakotozafy (Parc Botanique et Zoologique Tsimbazaza Antananarivo), the Commission Tripartite and the CAFF of the Direction des Eaux et Forêts, the CFPF Morondava, and Jörg U. Ganzhorn, Hans Zischler and Andreas Hapke for their authorization or support of this study. Thanks go to Tiana Andrianjanahary, Karoline Franz and Wiebke Plästerer for assistance in the field, and to Dietmar Zinner, Susan C. Alberts and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. This article is based on a doctoral study by M. Eberle in the Faculty of Biology, University of Hamburg, with financial support from the Deutsches Primatenzentrum and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Ka 1082/5-1,2).

Supplementary material

S1 Female gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus) with mating plug

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© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Abteilung SoziobiologieDeutsches PrimatenzentrumGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Institut für Zoologie & Zoologisches MuseumUniversität HamburgHamburgGermany

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