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Sensory Basis of Food Detection in Wild Microcebus murinus

Abstract

Very little is known about how nocturnal primates find their food. Here we studied the sensory basis of food perception in wild-caught gray mouse lemurs (Microcebus murinus) in Madagascar. Mouse lemurs feed primarily on fruit and arthropods. We established a set of behavioral experiments to assess food detection in wild-born, field-experienced mouse lemurs in short-term captivity. Specifically, we investigated whether they use visual, auditory, and motion cues to find and to localize prey arthropods and further whether olfactory cues are sufficient for finding fruit. Visual cues from motionless arthropod dummies were not sufficient to allow reliable detection of prey in choice experiments, nor did they trigger prey capture behavior when presented on the feeding platform. In contrast, visual motion cues from moving prey dummies attracted their attention. Behavioral observations and experiments with live and recorded insect rustling sounds indicated that the lemurs make use of prey-generated acoustic cues for foraging. Both visual motion cues and acoustic prey stimuli on their own were sufficient to trigger approach and capture behavior in the mouse lemurs. For the detection of fruit, choice experiments showed that olfactory information was sufficient for mouse lemurs to find a piece of banana. Our study provides the first experimental data on the sensory ecology of food detection in mouse lemurs. Further research is necessary to address the role of sensory ecology for food selection and possibly for niche differentiation between sympatric Microcebus species.

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Acknowledgments

A National Geographic Society grant to BMS and JUG (7198-02) funded our research. We captured subjects and conducted behavioral studies under license from the Ministère de l’Evironnement des Eaux et Forets, Madagascar and complied with Malagasy laws. We thank the Direction des Eaux et Forêts and the Commision Tripartie for authorization of our research. We thank QIT Madagascar Minerals for providing excellent logistics at Fort Dauphin and Mandena. We especially thank Mme. Manon Vincelette. Likewise, we acknowledge the logistic support at Morondava and Kirindy provided by the German Primate Centre (DPZ) and the University of Antananarivo. Special thanks go to Prof. Peter Kappeler and Leon Razafimananatsoa. For invaluable help and company in the field we thank our colleagues Brigitte Raharivololona, Refahly Ernest, Malala Raharimanga, and Tiana Andrianjanahary. We thank Ingrid Kaipf for producing Fig. 1 and an anonymous referee for very constructive and supportive comments on an earlier version of the article.

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Correspondence to Björn M. Siemers.

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Siemers, B.M., Goerlitz, H.R., Robsomanitrandrasana, E. et al. Sensory Basis of Food Detection in Wild Microcebus murinus . Int J Primatol 28, 291 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-007-9135-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-007-9135-7

Keywords

  • auditory
  • foraging
  • olfactory
  • prey detection
  • primates
  • sensory ecology
  • visual