Modeling the origins of primate sociality: kin recognition in mouse lemurs

Document
Description

Arguments of human uniqueness emphasize our complex sociality, unusual cognitive capacities, and language skills, but the timing of the origin of these abilities and their evolutionary causes remain unsolved. Though

Arguments of human uniqueness emphasize our complex sociality, unusual cognitive capacities, and language skills, but the timing of the origin of these abilities and their evolutionary causes remain unsolved. Though not unique to primates, kin-biased sociality was key to the success of the primate order. In contrast to ancestral solitary mammals, the earliest primates are thought to have maintained dispersed (non-group living) social networks, communicating over distances via vocalizations and scent marks. If such ancestral primates recognized kin, those networks may have facilitated the evolution of kin-biased sociality in the primate order and created selection for increased cognitive and communicative abilities. I used the gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus) to model whether vocalizations could have facilitated matrilineal and patrilineal kin recognition in ancestral primates. Much like mouse lemurs today, ancestral primates are thought to have been small-bodied, nocturnal creatures that captured insects and foraged for fruit in the thin, terminal ends of tree branches. Thus, the mouse lemur is an excellent model species because its ecological niche is likely to be similar to that of ancestral primates 55-90 million years ago. I conducted playback experiments in Ankarafantsika National Park, Madagascar testing whether mouse lemur agonistic calls contain matrilineal kin signatures and whether the lemurs recognize matrilineal kin. In contrast to large-brained, socially complex monkeys with frequent coalitionary behavior, mouse lemurs did not react differently to the agonistic calls of matrilineal kin and nonkin, though moderate signatures were present in the calls. I tested for patrilineal signatures and patrilineal kin recognition via mating and alarm calls in a colony with known pedigree relationships. The results are the first to demonstrate that a nocturnal, solitary foraging mammal gives mating calls with patrilineal signatures and recognizes patrilineal kin. Interestingly, alarm calls did not have signatures and did not facilitate kin recognition, suggesting that selection for kin recognition is stronger in some call types than others. As this dissertation is the first investigation of vocal kin recognition in a dispersed-living, nocturnal strepsirrhine primate, it greatly advances our knowledge of the role of vocal communication in the evolution of primate social complexity.