Night and Day: The Comparative Study of Strepsirrhine Primates Reveals Socioecological and Phylogenetic Patterns in Olfactory Signals

Document Type


Publication Title

Journal of Evolutionary Biology

Publication Date



ecology, lemur, olfactory communication, phylogeny, primate, scent signature, semiochemical, sociality, SPDE/GC–MS, urine marking


Studies of chemical signals in vertebrates typically target single species; however, a broader understanding of olfactory communication may derive from comparative studies. We collected urine from 12 species representing most families of strepsirrhine primates – an excellent model clade because of variation in scent marking and socioecology. Using SPDE/GC–MS, we identified the volatile chemical composition of male and female urine from six ‘urine marking’ species and six glandular or ‘non‐urine marking’ species. We found no sex differences, but as predicted, urine markers expressed the most chemically complex and distinctive urine. More distantly related species had more dissimilar urinary profiles, suggesting gradual signal evolution. Reconstructing ancestral chemical profiles revealed different evolutionary trajectories for urine and non‐urine markers. We suggest that urine marking is an ancestral behaviour related to solitary, nocturnal living and that parallel evolutionary shifts towards greater reliance on derived glandular marking occurred in a family (Lemuridae) characterized by diurnality and sociality.

Funding Source

Funding at Duke was provided by National Science Foundation research grants BCS‐0409367 and IOS‐0719003 (to CMD). Funding at Hendrix College was provided by the Hendrix Odyssey Program.


This article was originally published as delBarco-Trillo, J., Burkert, B.A., Goodwin, T.E. and Drea, C.M. (2011) Night and day: the comparative study of strepsirrhine primates reveals socioecological and phylogenetic patterns in olfactory signals. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 24: 82-98.