A 15-Year Perspective on the Social Organization and Life History of Sifaka in Kirindy Forest

  • Peter M. KappelerEmail author
  • Claudia Fichtel


In this chapter, we summarize some fundamental demographic and morphometric data from the first 15 years of a long-term study of Verreaux’s sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi) at Kirindy Forest in Western Madagascar. We first describe this research site, its history, and infrastructure, as well as the methods employed to study a local sifaka population. Regular censuses, behavioral observations, and systematic captures of members of up to 11 groups began in 1995 and yielded a data set on demography and life history that can contribute comparative insights about sifaka life history. Our analyses revealed that average group size fluctuated very little around a mean of six individuals across years. Group composition was modified by dispersal (mostly male transfers) or disappearances, births, and deaths. Predation and female transfer were the main mechanisms triggering group extinctions and foundation of new groups (N=5 cases in 149 group years). These exceptional cases of female transfer were most likely motivated by female competition or inbreeding avoidance. One female was a member of at least four different groups. Median age at first birth was 5 years. All females gave birth to single infants, but the proportion of adult females reproducing varied between 25 and 85% across years. The mean interval between 112 births was 15.1 months. Loss of an infant before weaning reduced the subsequent inter-birth interval only by about 1 month. The probability that individual females reproduced successfully decreased as the number of adult females per group increased, implying that subtle forms of female competition limit group size. Mortality is especially high (62%) in the first 2 years of life. Predation by the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) is the main cause of death. Maximum female reproductive lifespan is at least 15 years, but longevity is still impossible to estimate. These analyses revealed new insights into female reproductive strategies and their interaction with social organization that were only possible because of the long-term nature of the study, but problems of small sample size still limit the analysis of many vital statistics.


Adult Female Mouse Lemur Juvenile Male Radio Collar Female Dispersal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Our foremost thanks go to our field assistant Tiana Andrianjanahary for his reliable and enthusiastic collection of census data. Enafa, Mily, Elysée, Léonard Razafimanantsoa, Rodin Rasoloarison, Mamitiana Razafindrasamba, Jean-Pierre Ratolojanahary, Nielsen Rabarijaona, Remy Ampataka, the late Jean-Claude Beroboka, Dietmar Zinner, Rebecca Lewis, and numerous student baby-sitters helped with the capture of sifakas. Dr. Joelison Ratsirarson supported our sifaka study in numerous ways. The CFPF/CNFEREF, Département Biologie Animale Université d’Antananarivo, and the Ministère Forêts et Environnement de Madagascar continue to authorize and support our research. The Bundesamt für Naturschutz provided the permits for tissue imports, and Heike Klensang was instrumental in obtaining them. Ulrike Walbaum managed the sifaka data base for many years, and Katharina Peters helped in extracting relevant information. Without the ground-breaking activities of Jörg Ganzhorn and the continuous financial support of the Deutsches Primatenzentrum and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, this ongoing long-term project would have been impossible. We thank all these individuals and institutions for their support, and David Watts for helpful comments on this chapter.


  1. Alberts SC, Altmann J (2003) Matrix models for primate life history analysis. In: Kappeler PM, Pereira ME (eds) Primate life histories and socioecology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, pp 66–102Google Scholar
  2. Albignac R, Fontenille D, Maleyran D, Duvernoy F (1988) Evolution de l’organisation sociale et territoriale de Propithecus verreauxi coquereli pendant 6 ans, dans les forêts sèches du nord-ouest de Madagascar (Ankarafantsika). In: Rakotovato L, Barre V, Sayer J (eds) L'équilibre des ecosystèmes forestiers à Madagascar: actes d'un séminaire international. IUCN, Gland and Cambridge, pp 90–94Google Scholar
  3. Brockman DK, Whitten PL (1996) Reproduction in free-ranging Propithecus verreauxi: estrus and the relationship between multiple partner matings and fertilization. Am J Phys Anthropol 100:57–69PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brockman DK, Godfrey LR, Dollar LJ, Ratsirarson J (2008) Evidence of invasive Felis silvestris predation on Propithecus verreauxi at Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, Madagascar. Int J Primatol 29:135–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burney DA (2002) Sifaka predation by a large boa. Folia Primatol 73:144–145PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Di Fiore A, Link A, Schmitt CA, Spehar SN (2009) Dispersal patterns in sympatric woolly and spider monkeys: integrating molecular and observational data. Behaviour 146:437–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Erkert HG, Kappeler PM (2004) Arrived in the light: diel and seasonal activity patterns in wild Verreaux's sifakas (Propithecus v. verreauxi; Primates: Indriidae). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 57:174–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fichtel C (2008) Ontogeny of conspecific and heterospecific alarm call recognition in wild Verreaux's sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi). Am J Primatol 70:127–135PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fichtel C, Kappeler PM (2002) Anti-predator behavior of group-living Malagasy primates: mixed evidence for a referential alarm call system. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 51:262–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fichtel C, Kappeler PM (2011) Variation in the meaning of alarm calls in Coquerel’s and Verreaux’s sifakas (Propithecus coquereli, P. verreauxi). Int J Primatol 32:346–361PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ganzhorn JU (1995) Low-level forest disturbance effects on primary production, leaf chemistry, and lemur population. Ecology 76:2084–2096CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ganzhorn JU, Sorg J-P (1996) Ecology and economy of a tropical dry forest in Madagascar. Primate Rep 46–1:1–382Google Scholar
  13. Ganzhorn JU, Ganzhorn AW, Abraham J-P, Andriamanarivo L, Ramananjatovo A (1990) The impact of selective logging on forest structure and tenrec populations in western Madagascar. Oecologia 84:126–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ganzhorn JU, Fietz J, Rakotovao E, Schwab D, Zinner DP (1999) Lemurs and the regeneration of dry deciduous forest in Madagascar. Conserv Biol 13:794–804CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Groeneveld LF, Weisrock DW, Rasoloarison RM, Yoder AD, Kappeler PM (2009) Species delimitation in lemurs: multiple genetic loci reveal low levels of species diversity in the genus Cheirogaleus. BMC Evol Biol 9:30. doi: 10.1186/1471-2148-9-30 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Harris TR, Caillaud D, Chapman CA, Vigilant L (2009) Neither genetic nor observational data alone are sufficient for understanding sex-biased dispersal in a social-group-living species. Mol Ecol 18:1777–1790PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Horvath JE, Weisrock DW, Embry SL, Fiorentino I, Balhoff JP, Kappeler PM, Wray GA, Willard HF, Yoder AD (2008) Development and application of a phylogenomic toolkit: resolving the evolutionary history of Madagascar’s lemurs. Genome Res 18:489–499PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jolly A (1966) Lemur behavior: a Madagascar field study. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, ILGoogle Scholar
  19. Kappeler PM (1991) Patterns of sexual dimorphism in body weight among prosimian primates. Folia Primatol 57:132–146PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kappeler PM, Schäffler L (2008) The lemur syndrome unresolved: extreme male reproductive skew in sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi), a sexually monomorphic primate with female dominance. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62:1007–1015CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kappeler PM, Mass V, Port M (2009) Even adult sex ratios in lemurs: potential costs and benefits of subordinate males in Verreaux's sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi) in the Kirindy Forest CFPF, Madagascar. Am J Phys Anthropol 140:487–497PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Karpanty SM (2006) Direct and indirect impacts of raptor predation on lemurs in southeastern Madagascar. Int J Primatol 27:239–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Karpanty SM, Goodman SM (1999) Diet of the Madagascar harrier-hawk, Polyboroides radiatus, in southeastern Madagascar. J Rap Res 33:313–316Google Scholar
  24. Kraus C, Heistermann M, Kappeler PM (1999) Physiological suppression of sexual function of subordinate males: a subtle form of intrasexual competition among male sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi)? Physiol Behav 66:855–861PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lawler RR (2007) Fitness and extra-group reproduction in male Verreaux’s sifaka: an analysis of reproductive success from 1989–1999. Am J Phys Anthropol 132:267–277PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lawler RR, Richard AF, Riley MA (2003) Genetic population structure of the white sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi) at Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, southwest Madagascar (1992–2001). Mol Ecol 12:2307–2317PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lewis RJ (2004) Male-female relationships in sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi): power, conflict and cooperation. PhD thesis, Duke University, DurhamGoogle Scholar
  28. Lewis RJ (2005) Sex differences in scent-marking in sifaka: mating conflict or male services? Am J Phys Anthropol 128:389–398PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lewis RJ, Razafindrasamba SM, Tolojanahary JP (2003) Observed infanticide in a seasonal breeding prosimian (Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi) in Kirindy Forest, Madagascar. Folia Primatol 74:101–103PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lührs M-L, Dammhahn M (2010) An unusual case of cooperative hunting in a solitary carnivore. J Ethol 28:379–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mass V, Heistermann M, Kappeler PM (2009) Mate-guarding as a male reproductive tactic in Propithecus verreauxi. Int J Primatol 30:389–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mittermeier RA, Ganzhorn JU, Konstant WR, Glander K, Tattersall I, Groves CP, Rylands AB, Hapke A, Ratsimbazafy J, Mayor MI, Louis EE Jr, Rumpler Y, Schwitzer C, Rasoloarison RM (2008) Lemur diversity in Madagascar. Int J Primatol 29:1607–1656CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mittermeier RA, Louis EE Jr, Richardson M, Schwitzer C, Langrand O, Rylands AB, Hawkins F, Rajaobelina S, Ratsimbazafy J, Rasoloarison RM, Roos C, Kappeler PM, Mackinnon J (2010) Lemurs of Madagascar, 3rd edn, Tropical Field Guide Series. Conservation International, Arlington, VAGoogle Scholar
  34. Morelli TL, King SJ, Pochron ST, Wright PC (2009) The rules of disengagement: takeovers, infanticide, and dispersal in a rainforest lemur, Propithecus edwardsi. Behaviour 146:499–523CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pochron ST, Wright PC (2003) Variability in adult group compositions of a prosimian primate. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 54:285–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pochron ST, Fitzgerald J, Gilbert CC, Lawrence D, Grgas M, Rakotonirina G, Ratsimbazafy R, Rakotosoa R, Wright PC (2003) Patterns of female dominance in Propithecus diadema edwardsi of Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. Am J Primatol 61:173–185PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Pochron ST, Tucker WT, Wright PC (2004) Demography, life history, and social structure in Propithecus diadema edwardsi from 1986–2000 in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. Am J Phys Anthropol 125:61–72PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pochron ST, Morelli TL, Scirbona J, Wright PC (2005) Sex differences in scent-marking in Propithecus edwardsi of Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. Am J Primatol 66:97–110PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rakotonirina (1996) Composition and structure of a dry forest on sandy soils near Morondava. Primate Rep 46–1:81–87Google Scholar
  40. Rasoloarison RM, Rasolonandrasana BPN, Ganzhorn JU, Goodman SM (1995) Predation on vertebrates in the Kirindy Forest, western Madagascar. Ecotropica 1:59–65Google Scholar
  41. Rasoloarison RM, Goodman SM, Ganzhorn JU (2000) Taxonomic revision of mouse lemurs (Microcebus) in the western portions of Madagascar. Int J Primatol 21:963–1019CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Richard AF (1974a) Intra-specific variation in the social organization and ecology of Propithecus verreauxi. Folia Primatol 22:178–207PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Richard AF (1974b) Patterns of mating in Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi. In: Martin RD, Doyle GA, Walker AC (eds) Prosimian biology. Duckworth, London, pp 49–74Google Scholar
  44. Richard AF (1978) Behavioral variation: case study of a Malagasy lemur. Bucknell University Press, LewisburgGoogle Scholar
  45. Richard AF (2003) Propithecus, sifakas. In: Goodman SM, Benstead JP (eds) The natural history of Madagascar. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, pp 1345–1348Google Scholar
  46. Richard AF, Nicoll ME (1987) Female social dominance and basal metabolism in a Malagasy primate, Propithecus verreauxi. Am J Primatol 12:309–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Richard AF, Rakotomanga P, Schwartz M (1991) Demography of Propithecus verreauxi at Beza Mahafaly, Madagascar: sex ratio, survival and fertility, 1984–1988. Am J Phys Anthropol 84:307–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Richard AF, Rakotomanga P, Schwartz M (1993) Dispersal by Propithecus verreauxi at Beza Mahafaly, Madagascar: 1984–1991. Am J Primatol 30:1–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Richard AF, Dewar RE, Schwartz M, Ratsirarson J (2002) Life in the slow lane? Demography and life histories of male and female sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi). J Zool Lond 256:421–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Schmid J (2000) Daily torpor in the gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus) in Madagascar: energetic consequences and biological significance. Oecologia 123:175–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Schmid J, Ruf T, Heldmaier G (2000) Metabolism and temperature regulation during daily torpor in the smallest primate, the pygmy mouse lemur (Microcebus myosin’s) in Madagascar. J Comp Physiol B 170:59–68PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sorg JP, Rohner U (1996) Climate and tree phenology of the dry deciduous forest of the Kirindy Forest. Primate Rep 46–1:57–80Google Scholar
  53. Sorg JP, Ganzhorn JU, Kappeler PM (2003) Forestry and research in the Kirindy Forest/Centre de Formation Professionnelle Forestière. In: Goodman SM, Benstead JP (eds) The natural history of Madagascar. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, pp 1512–1519Google Scholar
  54. Vick LG, Pereira ME (1989) Episodic targeting aggression and the histories of Lemur social groups. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 25:3–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Weisrock DW, Rasoloarison RM, Fiorentino I, Ralison JM, Goodman SM, Kappeler PM, Yoder AD (2010) Delimiting species without nuclear monophyly in Madagascar's mouse lemurs. PLoS One 5:e9883. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009883 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wright PC (1995) Demography and life history of free-ranging Propithecus diadema edwardsi in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. Int J Primatol 16:835–854CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wright PC (1998) Impact of predation risk on the behaviour of Propithecus diadema edwardsi in the rain forest of Madagascar. Behaviour 135:483–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wright PC, Heckscher SK, Dunham AE (1997) Predation on Milne-Edward's sifaka (Propithecus diadema edwardsi) by the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) in the rain forest of southeastern Madagascar. Folia Primatol 68:34–43PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Yoder AD, Rasoloarison RM, Goodman SM, Irwin JA, Atsalis S, Ravosa MJ, Ganzhorn JU (2000) Remarkable species diversity in Malagasy mouse lemurs (Primates, Microcebus). Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 97:11325–11330PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Yoder AD, Olson LE, Hanley C, Heckman KL, Rasoloarison RM, Russell AL, Ranivo J, Soarimalala V, Karanth KP, Raselimanana AP, Goodman SM (2005) A multidimensional approach for detecting species patterns in Malagasy vertebrates. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 102(suppl 1):6587–6594PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sussman R et al (2012) Beza Mahfaly Special Reserve long-term research on lemurs in southwestern Madagascar. In: Kappeler PM, Watts DP (eds) Long-term field studies of primates. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  62. Wright PC et al (2012) Long-term lemur research at Centre Valbio, Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. In: Kappeler PM, Watts DP (eds) Long-term field studies of primates. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociobiology and Anthropology, CRC Evolution of Social BehaviorUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology UnitGerman Primate CenterGöttingenGermany

Personalised recommendations