Scents and sensibility: information content of olfactory signals in the ringtailed lemur, Lemur catta
The function of olfactory signalling in social species is less well understood than in asocial species. Consequently, we examined olfactory communication in the ringtailed lemur, a socially complex primate that retains a functional vomeronasal organ, has well-developed scent glands and shows a suite of scent-marking behaviour. To assess the information content of different types of scent gland secretions, we decoupled olfactory cues from the visual and behavioural modalities with which scent marking is normally associated. We presented male and female subjects (signal receivers) with a series of choice tests between odours derived from conspecific donors (signal senders) varying by sex, age, social status and reproductive condition. We additionally examined the influence of the receivers' reproductive state and familiarity with the signaller. The reproductive condition, social status and familiarity of senders and receivers affected signal transmission; specifically, male receivers attended most to the odours of conspecifics in breeding condition and to the odours of familiar, dominant animals. By contrast, females varied their responses according to both their own reproductive state and that of the sender. Based on male and female patterns of countermarking, we suggest that scent marking serves a function in intergroup spacing and intrasexual competition for both sexes, as might be expected in a female-dominant species. By contrast, minimal female interest in male odours counters a female mate choice function for scent marking in this species. Nevertheless, scent marks are critical to male-male competition and, therefore, may be subject to sexual selection. © 2006 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.
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