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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Acoustic divergence in the communication of cryptic species of nocturnal primates (Microcebus ssp.)

Pia Braune*, Sabine Schmidt and Elke Zimmermann

Author Affiliations

Institute of Zoology, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Bünteweg 17, 30559 Hannover, Germany

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BMC Biology 2008, 6:19  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-6-19

Published: 7 May 2008



A central question in evolutionary biology is how cryptic species maintain species cohesiveness in an area of sympatry. The coexistence of sympatrically living cryptic species requires the evolution of species-specific signalling and recognition systems. In nocturnal, dispersed living species, specific vocalisations have been suggested to act as an ideal premating isolation mechanism. We studied the structure and perception of male advertisement calls of three nocturnal, dispersed living mouse lemur species, the grey mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus), the golden brown mouse lemur (M. ravelobensis) and the Goodman's mouse lemur (M. lehilahytsara). The first two species occur sympatrically, the latter lives allopatrically to them.


A multi-parameter sound analysis revealed prominent differences in the frequency contour and in the duration of advertisement calls. To test whether mouse lemurs respond specifically to calls of the different species, we conducted a playback experiment with M. murinus from the field using advertisement calls and alarm whistle calls of all three species. Individuals responded significantly stronger to conspecific than to heterospecific advertisement calls but there were no differences in response behaviour towards statistically similar whistle calls of the three species. Furthermore, sympatric calls evoked weaker interest than allopatric advertisement calls.


Our results provide the first evidence for a specific relevance of social calls for speciation in cryptic primates. They furthermore support that specific differences in signalling and recognition systems represent an efficient premating isolation mechanism contributing to species cohesiveness in sympatrically living species.