Mix it and fix it: functions of composite olfactory signals in ring-tailed lemurs.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats


Citation Stats


Animals communicating via scent often deposit composite signals that incorporate odorants from multiple sources; however, the function of mixing chemical signals remains understudied. We tested both a 'multiple-messages' and a 'fixative' hypothesis of composite olfactory signalling, which, respectively, posit that mixing scents functions to increase information content or prolong signal longevity. Our subjects-adult, male ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta)-have a complex scent-marking repertoire, involving volatile antebrachial (A) secretions, deposited pure or after being mixed with a squalene-rich paste exuded from brachial (B) glands. Using behavioural bioassays, we examined recipient responses to odorants collected from conspecific strangers. We concurrently presented pure A, pure B and mixed A + B secretions, in fresh or decayed conditions. Lemurs preferentially responded to mixed over pure secretions, their interest increasing and shifting over time, from sniffing and countermarking fresh mixtures, to licking and countermarking decayed mixtures. Substituting synthetic squalene (S)-a well-known fixative-for B secretions did not replicate prior results: B secretions, which contain additional chemicals that probably encode salient information, were preferred over pure S. Whereas support for the 'multiple-messages' hypothesis underscores the unique contribution from each of an animal's various secretions, support for the 'fixative' hypothesis highlights the synergistic benefits of composite signals.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Greene, LK, KE Grogan, KN Smyth, CA Adams, SA Klager and CM Drea (2016). Mix it and fix it: functions of composite olfactory signals in ring-tailed lemurs. R Soc Open Sci, 3(4). p. 160076. 10.1098/rsos.160076 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/11826.

This is constructed from limited available data and may be imprecise. To cite this article, please review & use the official citation provided by the journal.



Lydia Greene

Dir, Acad Engagement for Acad Discipline

I am currently the Director of Academic Engagement for Natural & Quantitative Sciences in Duke's Academic Advising Center. My work involves mentoring and advising undergraduates pursuing opportunities and careers in the STEM fields, and working with campus partners to develop more inclusive STEM programming.

My own research is on the ecology of lemurs in Madagascar, with a central focus on mechanisms of local adaptation in sifakas. Prior to my role as NQS DAE, I was a postdoctoral associate at the Duke Lemur Center and graduate student in Duke's Ecology Program. My dissertation research was on the role of the gut microbiome in facilitating folivory as an ecological strategy in lemurs. 


Christine M. Drea

Professor in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology

I have two broad research interests, sexual differentiation and social behavior, both focused on hyenas and primates. I am particularly interested in unusual species in which the females display a suite of masculinized characteristics, including male- like or exaggerated external genitalia and social dominance.
The study of naturally occurring hormones in such unique mammals can reveal general processes of hormonal activity, expressed in genital morphology, reproductive development, and social behavior. Taking a combined laboratory and field approach allows me to relate captive data to various facets of the animals' natural habitat, thereby enhancing the ecological validity of assay procedures and enriching interpretation in an evolutionary framework. The goal of comparative studies of hyenas and lemurs is to help elucidate the mechanisms of mammalian sexual differentiation.

My research program in social behavior focuses on social learning and group cohesion. Using naturalistic tasks that I present to captive animals in socially relevant contexts, I can investigate how social interaction modulates behavior, problem- solving, and cognitive performance. By studying and comparing models of carnivore and primate foraging, I can better understand how group-living animals modify their actions to meet environmental demands. A primary interest is determining whether similar factors, related to having a complex social organization, influence learning and performance across taxonomic groups. I am also interested in how animals learn rules of social conduct and maintain social cohesion, as evidenced by their patterns of behavioral developmental, the intricate balance between aggression and play, the expression of scent marking, and the social facilitation or inhibition of behavior.

Unless otherwise indicated, scholarly articles published by Duke faculty members are made available here with a CC-BY-NC (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial) license, as enabled by the Duke Open Access Policy. If you wish to use the materials in ways not already permitted under CC-BY-NC, please consult the copyright owner. Other materials are made available here through the author’s grant of a non-exclusive license to make their work openly accessible.