The role of acoustic signaling for spacing and group coordination in a nocturnal, pair-living primate, the western woolly lemur (Avahi occidentalis)

Rindrahatsarana Ramanankirahina, Marine Joly, Marina Scheumann, Elke Zimmermann

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Objectives: How social groups govern their distribution in time and space is a central question in socioecology. The aim of this study is to explore the role of acoustic signaling for spacing and cohesiveness in a nocturnal, cohesive, pair-living strepsirrhine.

Material and Methods: The study was conducted in northwestern Madagascar. Six pairs of Avahi occidentalis were radio-collared and home range usage, vocalizations and call-associated behavior recorded using GPS-based focal animal sampling. Home range size was analyzed using ArcView GIS 3.3. Calls were characterized by a multiparametric sound analysis.

Results: Three frequently used, acoustically distinct call types were identified: the avahee call, the whistle call, and the growling call, the latter is a soft; the two others are loud calls. Call types are given by both sexes and convey individually-specific signatures. Call types are used primarily in the locomotion context in the non-core-area of home ranges. The least common avahee call is responded by the avahee call from farther away. The more common whistle call, given when partners become visually isolated, and the growling call emitted at close distances, were answered by the whistle and the growling call. Results suggest a spacing function for the avahee call and group coordination functions for the other call types.

Discussion: Our study provides first empirical evidence for a nocturnal, cohesive pair-living strepsirrhine that vocal signaling represents an important mechanism for spacing, group coordination and decision making. Findings contribute to a better understanding of the evolutionary roots of primate vocal communication
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)466-477
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number3
Early online date26 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • communication
  • sociality complexity hypothesis
  • phylogenetic hypothesis
  • woolly lemur
  • evolution


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