Christine Drea, Ph.D. and Kathleen Grogan, Duke University, Evolutionary Anthropology
Area of research: Behavior and genetics
What is your main research question?
Studies in diverse taxa have found links between mate preference, reproductive success, and one’s genetic make-up. I will investigate if variation at critical immune system genes (Major Histocompatibility Complex or MHC) predicts (a) honest advertisement of mate quality via scent marks and (b) individual mate preference in ring-tailed lemurs, an endangered primate that can serve as a model for other critically endangered species.
Briefly describe your project design.
I will determine MHC genotypes of approximately 90 captive ring-tailed lemurs housed at the DLC and various zoos. After genotyping each animal, I will use behavioral testing (i.e., behavioral bioassays) to examine if captive ring-tailed lemurs use genital gland odors to discriminate between potential mates possessing ‘good genes’ and those that are a ‘good fit’.
How will working with lemurs/lemur samples help achieve your research goals?
Ring-tailed lemurs have one of the most elaborate systems of odor communication among primates; their genital secretions alone contain over 200 chemicals, which communicate reproductive condition, sex, individual identity, and relatedness. Lemur scent marks thus seem to function as honest indicators of individual quality. As a large, accessible population of captive ring-tailed lemurs exists in the United States, this species represents an ideal model for exploring the links between genetic make-up, mate quality, and mate preference.