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Nest site selection is at once fundamental to reproduction and a poorly understood component of many organisms’ reproductive investment. This study investigates the nesting behaviors of black-and-white ruffed lemurs, Varecia variegata, a litter-bearing primate from the southeastern rainforests of Madagascar. Using a combination of behavioral, geospatial, and demographic data, I test the hypotheses that environmental and social cues influence nest site selection and that these decisions ultimately impact maternal reproductive success. Gestating females built multiple large nests throughout their territories. Of these, females used only a fraction of the originally constructed nests, as well as several parking locations as infants aged. Nest construction was best predicted by environmental cues, including the size of the nesting tree and density of feeding trees within a 75 m radius of the nest, whereas nest use depended largely on the size and average distance to feeding trees within that same area. Microhabitat characteristics were unrelated to whether females built or used nests. Although unrelated to nest site selection, social cues, specifically the average distance to conspecifics’ nest and park sites, were related to maternal reproductive success; mothers whose litters were parked in closer proximity to others’ nests experienced higher infant survival than those whose nests were more isolated. This is likely because nesting proximity facilitated communal crèche use by neighboring females. Together, these results suggest a complex pattern of nesting behaviors that involves females strategically building nests in areas with high potential resource abundance, using nests in areas according to their realized productivity, and communally rearing infants within a network of nests distributed throughout the larger communal territory.


This article was originally published in Ecology & Evolution, available at DOI: 10.1002/ece3.4735.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 4.0)



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