Regulation of body temperature poses significant problems for organisms that inhabit environments with extreme and seasonally fluctuating ambient temperatures. To help alleviate the energetic costs of autonomic responses, these organisms often thermoregulate through behavioral mechanisms. Among primates, lemurs in Madagascar experience uncharacteristically seasonal and unpredictable climates relative to other primate-rich regions. Malagasy primates are physiologically flexible, but different species use different mechanisms to influence their body temperatures. Lemur catta, the ring-tailed lemur, experiences particularly acute diurnal temperature fluctuations in its mostly open-canopy habitat in south and southwest Madagascar. Ring-tailed lemurs are also atypical among lemurs in that they appear to use both sun basking postures and huddling to maintain body temperature when ambient temperatures are cold. To our knowledge, however, no one has systematically tested whether these behaviors function in thermoregulation. We present evidence that ring-tailed lemurs use these postures as behavioral thermoregulation strategies, and that different environmental variables are associated with the use of each posture. Major predictors of sunning included ambient temperature, time of day, and season. Specifically, L. catta consistently assumed sunning postures early after daybreak when ambient temperatures were <13°C, and ceased sunning around 10:00a.m., after ambient temperatures approached 26°C. Sunning occurred more often during austral winter months. Huddling was associated with time of day, but not with ambient temperature or season. We conclude that L. catta tend to sun, rather than huddle, under cold weather conditions when sunning is possible. However, both sunning and huddling are important behavioral adaptations of L. catta that augment chemical thermoregulation and the absence of a dynamic, insulating pelage. Sunning and huddling help to account for the great ecological flexibility of the species, but these adaptations may be insufficient in the face of future changes in protective vegetation and temperature. Am. J. Primatol. 78:745-754, 2016.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology