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Microsmatic primates revisited: Determining the importance of olfaction in primate communication


Female primates signal impending ovulation with a suite of sexual signals. Increasing numbers of studies are investigating the function of these signals and in particular the relationships among female signals, the timing of the fertile period, and male sexual behaviour. However, these studies have focused on visual, and to a lesser extent, acoustic signals, neglecting olfactory signals. Moreover, despite good theoretical reasons to expect that different modes of signalling communicate different information, to different male audiences, most studies to date have studied only one or two modes of signalling.
We aim to investigate the information content of female olfactory signals in captive baboons (Papio anubis), and relate these to the female sexual cycle and the fertile period (determined using progesterone and oestrogen levels, measured in faeces), other female sexual signals
(visual and behavioural), and male behaviour. This is the first detailed study of olfaction in sexual communication in Old World primates, and the first to integrate information concerning all the potential signals that females exhibit.
The project will contribute to our understanding of (i) olfactory communication in primates that, like humans, have traditionally been considered as “microsmatic”, (ii) the information that females provide to different males concerning their fertility, and (iii) the role of multiple signals in mate choice, as well as to the development of a model with potential practical consequences for humans.
The complementary expertise of the fellow and the scientist in charge make this project highly multidisciplinary. Furthermore, the training provided by the scientist in charge and host organisation will contribute significantly to the profile of the fellow, adding new methodological
and scientific competences as well as complementary skills fundamental to the fellow’s future career as an independent researcher.

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Stockton Road The Palatine Centre
DH1 3LE Durham
United Kingdom
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 231 283,20
Administrative Contact
Wendy Harle (Ms.)