Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts



Collaborative Specialization

Environment and Sustainability


Colquhoun, Ian C.


The study of multimodal communication in primatology has increased only recently. At present, there are no on-going investigations of multimodal communication in ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta), despite the body of research on this species. I investigated how different modes of L. catta inter-individual multimodal communication are socially coordinated and integrated by examining frequencies of occurrence within four potential biological and social factors: age, troop affiliation, sex, and dominance rank. Research was conducted over four months at the Duke Lemur Center, Durham, NC, on 14 individuals from three separate troops of captive, free-ranging L. catta. Results demonstrate communicative variation in unimodal, but not multimodal, signals correlating to sex and rank in this species. Dominant females appear to utilise visual signal components more frequently than males, while males rely more on auditory means of communicating, consistent with troop spatial organization. This research provides a baseline for future investigations into primate multimodal communication.

Summary for Lay Audience

Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta), like other primates including humans, have a diverse range of communicative modes. These are the ways in which individuals send information to each other and include four common sensory channels: auditory (hearing), visual (sight), tactile (physical touch), and olfactory (smell). My research focused on ring-tailed lemur social communication, but what sets my work apart from previous studies is that I collected and analyzed data from both unimodal and multimodal signals. While multimodal communication is by no means a new concept, it has only recently begun to appear in the primatology literature. The majority of studies on primate communication have been unimodal, which focuses on one type of signal from one sensory channel, but this approach simplifies the complexity of primate communication. My approach acknowledges that a single signal can use combinations of the senses, like auditory and visual together, and for this reason preserves signal complexity. I am interested to learn if ring-tailed lemurs show a preference for how they communicate and determine which factors potentially influence this by studying both unimodal and multimodal signals together. To do this, I followed one individual at a time (focal animal sampling) over the course of four months and tallied each time they used a communicative mode, which for ring-tailed lemurs includes auditory, visual, tactile, and olfactory modes, and importantly combinations of those. When I combined this frequency data with each individual’s personal information (their age, sex, dominance rank, and troop affiliation) I was able to determine whether the lemurs have unique preferences for certain modes over others, and whether one or more of the above personal factors influences this preference. I found that dominant females use the visual mode of communication more frequently than males do, while males rely more on the auditory mode. Furthermore, this difference was reflected only in unimodal signals. Multimodal signals appeared much more consistent between individuals despite differences in age, sex, dominance rank, and troop affiliation. Since at present there are no investigations of multimodal communication in lemurs, this study is intended to provide a baseline for future research into primate multimodal communication.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.