Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)TiHo eLib

The island of female power? Intersexual dominance relationships in the lemurs of Madagascar

The extant primates of Madagascar (Lemuriformes) represent the endpoints of an
adaptive radiation following a single colonization event more than 50 million years
ago. They have since evolved a diversity of life history traits, ecological adaptations
and social systems that rivals that of all other living primates combined. Their social
systems are characterized by a unique combination of traits, including the ability of
adult females to dominate adult males. In fact, there is no other group of mammals
in which female dominance is so widespread. Yet, recent research has indicated that there is more interspecific variation in lemur intersexual relationships than previously acknowledged. Here, we therefore review and summarize the relevant literature, quantifying the extent of sex-bias in intersexual dominance relations documented in observational and experimental studies in captivity and the wild. Female dominance is often, but not always, implemented by spontaneous male submission in the absence of female aggression and linked to female sexual maturation. We connect the available evidence to the hypotheses that have been proposed to explain the evolution of female dominance among lemurs. The occurrence of female dominance in all lemur families and the interspecific variation in its extent indicate that it has evolved soon after lemurs colonized Madagascar – presumably in response to particular ecological challenges – and that it has since been reduced in magnitude independently in some taxa. Our study contributes important comparative information on sex roles from an independent primate radiation and provides general insights into the conditions, opportunities and
obstacles in the evolution of female-biased power.


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