5 - Physiological adaptations to seasonality in nocturnal primates  pp. 129-156

Physiological adaptations to seasonality in nocturnal primates

By Jutta Schmid and Peter M. Kappeler

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Introduction

The current geographic distribution of primates is confined largely to tropical and subtropical regions, where they have colonized a variety of habitats. The majority of primate taxa inhabit tropical forests with little annual fluctuation in environmental conditions. Some species, however, live in habitats characterized by pronounced seasonal fluctuations in climate and or resource availability. These primates tend to live at relatively high latitudes or altitudes, or both. Primates in such seasonal habitats provide an opportunity to identify behavioral and physiological adaptations that enable them to cope with fluctuating environmental conditions. Furthermore, it is interesting to ask whether and how schedules of growth and reproduction are adapted to maximize individual reproductive success under such seasonal conditions, because they may have to be traded off against maintenance requirements during the lean part of the year.

Primates living in seasonal environments exhibit a number of specific behavioral, ecological, and physiological adaptations. For example, during the climatically and or energetically most stressful time of year, they may reduce energy expenditure, e.g. by reducing overall activity, and many have scheduled periods of growth and infant weaning to coincide with seasons of relative abundance. Behavioral and physiological mechanisms of thermoregulation play especially important roles in maintaining homeostasis in seasonally stressed primates. These mechanisms are importantly influenced by circadian activity patterns because diurnal and nocturnal animals are exposed to fundamentally different constraints and options in this respect.

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