Preliminary comparisons of learning across four lemur genera at the Duke Lemur Center
Lemurs have been relatively understudied in cognitive research despite representing an adaptive radiation and occupying a key phylogenetic position as the most basal extant primate lineage. Many of the existing studies have focused on only one lemur species. We aimed to take a comparative approach by examining learning abilities in 66 lemurs from four genera at the Duke Lemur Center in North Carolina. We used a novel two-action puzzle box to assess inter-species variation in learning speed, task proficiency, and social tolerance during trials. We found differences between genera in the percentage of individuals who had successes, individuals' latency to touch the apparatus and the number of times an individual observed a group member’s success. Eulemur and Varecia had shorter latencies and were observed more by conspecifics compared to Propithecus and Lemur. Shorter latencies may indicate reduced fear or increased motivation, while higher observation rates suggest more leniency or tolerance around the puzzle boxes. These results may be due to species differences in dominance and rank hierarchies; Propithecus and Lemur are more despotic than Eulemur, where some species exhibit sex co-dominance, and Varecia, which live in groups with high fission-fusion dynamics. We also show that even within these overall relationships, the different genera varied substantially in the temporal trajectory of these learning variables through the study trials. Overall, this comparative study provides preliminary insights into the taxon-specific learning trajectories of lemurs and contributes to the growing body of literature examining lemur cognition.