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Maintenance of familiarity and social bonding via communal latrine use in a solitary primate (Lepilemur leucopus)

Dröscher, Iris, Kappeler, Peter M.
Behavioral ecology and sociobiology 2014 v.68 no.12 pp. 2043-2058
Lemur, carnivores, cohesion, defecation, feces, habitats, information exchange, surveys, ungulates, urination, urine
Latrine use (i.e., the repeated use of specific defecation/urination sites) has been described for several mammals, including carnivores, ungulates, and primates. However, the functional significance of latrine use in primates has not been studied systematically yet. We, therefore, followed 14 radio-collared individuals of the pair-living white-footed sportive lemur (Lepilemur leucopus) for 1097 hours of continuous focal observations to investigate latrine distribution, seasonality of latrine use, as well as age and sex of users to test various hypotheses related to possible functions of latrine use, including territory demarcation, resource defense, signaling of reproductive state, social bonding, and mate defense. All individuals of a social unit exhibited communal use of latrines located in the core area of their territory, supporting the social boding hypothesis. Latrine use seems to facilitate familiarity and social bonding within social units via olfactory communication in this primate that lives in family units but exhibits low levels of spatial cohesion and direct social interactions. In addition, frequency of latrine visitation was higher during nights of perceived intruder pressure, supporting the mate defense hypothesis. However, animals did not react to experimentally introduced feces from neighboring or strange social units, indicating that urine may be the more important component of latrines than feces in this arboreal species. Based on a survey of latrine use and function in other mammals, we conclude that latrines facilitate communication particularly in nocturnal species with limited habitat visibility and in species where individuals are not permanently cohesive because they constitute predictable areas for information exchange.