4 - Seasonality in predation risk: varying activity periods in lemurs and other primates  pp. 105-128

Seasonality in predation risk: varying activity periods in lemurs and other primates

By Michele A. Rasmussen

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A primate's activity cycle is one of its most fundamental characteristics as it determines when an individual engages in the basic behaviors required for survival. The allocation of activity over a single 24-hour period varies substantially across and even within species. Although the biological mechanisms that regulate vertebrate activity cycles and the abiotic cues associated with them have been the subject of much research, there has been relatively less emphasis on the adaptive and evolutionary correlates of the different ways in which animals distribute activity and rest across the 24-hour day.

Most primates display either a nocturnal or a diurnal activity cycle. Although diurnality frequently is associated with haplorhine primates, along with their superior visual acuity and trichromatic vision (at least in the catarrhines), several strepsirrhine species are also habitually day-active (Tattersall 1982; Mittermeier et al. 1994), and at least three taxa display an X-linked polymorphism that permits trichromacy in females (Tan & Li 1999). Furthermore, not all haplorhines are diurnal; exceptions include the tarsier and the owl monkey, taxa that secondarily evolved a nocturnal activity cycle from diurnal ancestors (Martin 1990).

The morphological and behavioral dichotomy that exists between nocturnal and diurnal species is striking, especially within the visually adapted primate order, and it would seem difficult to shift from day activity to night activity, or vice versa, once adaptations for either of these activity periods have evolved. Nonetheless, a third activity cycle observed in primates requires such transitions between day and night activity.

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