First experimental evidence for olfactory species discrimination in two nocturnal primate species (Microcebus lehilahytsara and M. murinus)
Olfactory communication is highly important for nocturnal mammals, especially for solitary foragers, but knowledge is still limited for nocturnal primates. Mouse lemurs (Microcebus spp.) are nocturnal solitary foragers with a dispersed lifestyle and frequently use chemo-sensory signalling behaviour for governing social interactions. Different mouse lemur species can co-occur in a given forest but it is unknown whether olfaction is involved in species recognition. We first screened 24 captive mouse lemurs (9 M. murinus, 15 M. lehilahytsara) for their olfactory learning potential in an experimental arena and then tested the species discrimination ability with urine odour in an operant conditioning paradigm in four individuals. The majority of the screened animals (75%) did not pass the screening criteria within a 2-week test period. However, all four final test animals, two M. murinus and two M. lehilahytsara, were successfully trained in a 5-step-conditioning process to reliably discriminate conspecific from heterospecific urine odour (requiring an overall median of 293 trials). Findings complement previous studies on the role of acoustic signalling and suggest that olfaction may be an important additional mechanism for species discrimination.