A 24-Year record of female reproductive dynamics in two sympatric mouse lemur species in northwestern Madagascar
Seasonal reproduction is widespread among primates but the degree of reproductive synchrony and plasticity can vary, even between closely related species. This study compares the dynamics of female reproductive seasonality in two mouse lemur species, Microcebus murinus and M. ravelobensis, in Ankarafantsika National Park, Madagascar, across 24 years. We collected 4321 records of female reproductive state from 1033 individual females (319 M. murinus, 714 M. ravelobensis). The analyses revealed disparate reproductive schedules: While female M. murinus showed high degrees of reproductive synchrony throughout all years, leading to the production of two successive litters, the seasonal onset of estrus (= reproductive activation) in female M. ravelobensis was more flexible than in M. murinus, starting 2-4 weeks earlier, varying by up to 4 weeks between years, and being less synchronized. M. ravelobensis females became reproductively active later in years with more rainfall, in particular rain in February, but the timing of reproductive activation was not related to differences in temperatures. The likelihood of early conception was significantly lower in M. ravelobensis than in M. murinus. This was partly due to delayed reproductive activation in young animals, and a lower likelihood of early conception for females with low body mass in M. ravelobensis. Our results suggest high, adaptive reproductive plasticity in M. ravelobensis that may enable individuals to respond flexibly to yearly environmental changes and expand the reproductive period under favorable conditions. These species differences in reproductive schedules may be the result of the divergent evolutionary histories of the two mouse lemur species in different parts of Madagascar.