Public Release: 

It started with a squeak: Moonlight serenade helps lemurs pick mates of the right species

BioMed Central

IMAGE?

IMAGE: Micocebus murinus on the lookout for a mate. view more

Credit: Tiho Hannover

Lonely hearts columns testify that finding a partner can be hard enough, but at least most human beings can be fairly certain that when we do we have got one of the right species. Things aren't so simple for all animals. Some Malagasy mouse lemurs are so similar that picking a mate of the right species, especially at night time in a tropical forest, might seem like a matter of pot luck. However, new research in BioMed Central's journal BMC Biology has shown that our desperately cute distant cousins use vocalisations to pick up a partner of the right species.

Until recently, grey, golden brown, and Goodman's mouse lemurs were all thought to be the same species. But genetic testing revealed that they are, in fact, three distinct, species so similar that they cannot be told apart by their appearance--so called cryptic species. "A fundamental problem for cryptic species that live in the same area and habitat is the coordination of reproduction and discrimination between potential mates of the same species and remarkably similar individuals of other species" say Pia Braune and colleagues from the Institute of Zoology, University of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover University.

Males of these nocturnal species use advertising calls to let females know that they are looking for love. The researchers recorded advertising calls from the three species and then played them back to grey mouse lemurs, noting what response, if any, they made. "Grey mouse lemurs reacted more to calls from other grey mouse lemurs than to those of either other species", say the researchers. Furthermore, the grey mouse lemurs seemed to ignore the calls of golden brown mouse lemurs, which live in the same area and habitat to them, but show some interest in the calls of Goodman's mouse lemur, which they would never normally meet. "The importance of vocalisation in attracting mates is well known for frogs and birds", explain the authors, "but this is the first evidence for species-specific call divergence in the communication of cryptic primate species with overlapping ranges."

The lemurs' moonlight serenades help to ensure that individuals of one species don't waste time trying to mate with those of another, which would produce either no offspring or infertile hybrids. Indeed, the possibility of grey and golden-brown mouse lemurs encountering each other might explain the difference in calls and responses, according to Braune: "our data support the evolutionary hypothesis that species cohesiveness has led to divergence in signalling and recognition to avoid costly hybridisation."

###

Notes to Editors:

1. Acoustic divergence in communication of cryptic species of nocturnal primates (Microcebus ssp.)
Pia Braune, Sabine Schmidt and Elke Zimmermann
BMC Biology (in press)

During embargo, article available here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/imedia/7127928061666777_article.pdf?random=187678

After the embargo, article available at the journal website: http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmcbiol/

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

Article citation and URL available on request at press@biomedcentral.com on the day of publication

2. To view images of the lemur species, please visit these links

http://www.biomedcentral.com/graphics/email/images/general/Microcebus_Ravelobensis.jpg
http://www.biomedcentral.com/graphics/email/images/general/Microcebus_Lehilahytsara.jpg
http://www.biomedcentral.com/graphics/email/images/general/Micocebus_Murinus.jpg

3. BMC Biology - the flagship biology journal of the BMC series - publishes open access research and methodology articles of special importance and broad interest in any area of biology and biomedical sciences. BMC Biology (ISSN 1741-7007) is covered by PubMed, MEDLINE, BIOSIS, CAS, Scopus, EMBASE, Zoological Record, Thomson Scientific (ISI) and Google Scholar. The journal will receive its first Impact Factor in 2008.

4. BioMed Central (www.biomedcentral.com) is an independent online publishing house committed to providing immediate access without charge to the peer-reviewed biological and medical research it publishes. This commitment is based on the view that open access to research is essential to the rapid and efficient communication of science.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.