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Wiley, American Journal of Primatology, 4(57), p. 157-176

DOI: 10.1002/ajp.10046

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Social system of the Alaotran gentle lemur (Hapalemur griseus alaotrensis): Genetic characterization of group composition and mating system

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Abstract

Group composition and mating system were investigated in wild Alaotran gentle lemurs (Hapalemur griseus alaotrensis) using genetic markers. These small-bodied herbivorous and cathemeral primates are endemic to the reed and papyrus beds around Lac Alaotra in Madagascar. They live in small groups in small, defended territories. Data were collected during the rainy seasons in 1996, 1997, and 1999, and include 99 individuals from 22 neighboring social groups and an additional 30 animals from other areas representing most of the geographic range. Animals were located by researchers canoeing in the marshes bordering the lake. After a group's size was determined by direct observation, all individuals were captured, marked, and released. During handling each individual was weighed and sexed, and hair samples for DNA extraction were collected. A 342 bp mtDNA control region sequence and 10 nuclear microsatellite loci provided multilocus genotypes that were used to assess pedigree relations and population structure. Alaotran gentle lemurs were found in groups of two to nine individuals (mean: 4.3), comprising one or two breeding females, their offspring, and one reproducing male. Solitary individuals of both sexes were encountered rarely. Breeding females were the permanent core of the social groups, whereas intergroup transfer of reproductive males was relatively frequent. Forty percent of all reproducing groups contained two breeding females, which were related to each other as closely as mother-daughter or full sisters. Parentage assessment revealed a variable mating system ranging from serial monogamy to polygyny within social groups. At least 8% of paternities involved extragroup males. Additional data on life history and reproduction are presented, and the social system of the Alaotran gentle lemur is discussed in the light of the new genetic findings.