The Evolution of Female Dominance and the Reproductive Burden of Ringtailed Lemurs (Lemur catta)
Timby, Erin M.
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Although female dominance is a rare characteristic among primates, the ringtailed lemurs (Lemur catta) of Madagascar are a true female dominated society in which females possess feeding priority as well as agonistic superiority over the males. Because female dominance is so rare in primate taxa, many hypotheses have been posed to explain the evolution of this type of social system. One of these hypotheses is that female dominance evolved as a means of acquiring sufficient nutrition to support the energetic constraints of reproduction in the highly seasonal environment of Madagascar. Theoretically, lactating female lemurs face the highest energetic constraint and should be deferred to by both males and nonlactating females during feeding bouts in order to obtain sufficient nutrition for nursing infants. This study examined the feeding success of two groups of ringtailed lemurs during both normally provisioned and limited resource feeding bouts. It was expected that the males would defer to all females and that the nonlactating females would defer to the lactating females during each type of provisioning. Results for the normally provisioned feeding bouts were not as expected. These feedings were marked by the absence of male deference toward females and the absence of deference by the nonlactating females toward the lactating females. During the limited resource provisionings, however, the females fed significantly more than the males during the first ten minutes of the feeding bout. In one group the feeding success of the lactating females did not differ significantly from that of the nonlactating females while the lactating females of the other group fed significantly more than the nonlactating females. Based on these results, the energy constraint hypothesis appears to be a plausible explanation for the evolution of female dominance through female feeding priority in the ringtailed lemurs of Madagascar.
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