Eats leaves and grooms

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Science  05 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6371, pp. 44-45
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6371.44-e

Social interaction among Verreaux's sifaka is responsible for transmission of gut microbes that are essential for digestion of their leaf-based diet.


The gut microbiota influences many aspects of mammalian development and physiology. Yet we have a poor understanding of how the gut microbiota is acquired and assembled. We know that social networks are important for the transmission of pathogens, but are they also implicated in transmission of symbionts? Perofsky et al. investigated the microbiota of a social primate, a lemur species called Verreaux's sifaka, living in the wild in Madagascar. These lemurs eat leaves and have a distinctive microbiota capable of digesting and detoxifying plant matter. The authors found that sex, dominance, and age influenced gut microbial composition, but social group membership explained 58% of the variation. Grooming and scent-marking are essential for lemur social cohesion, and commensal microbes are transferred between individuals through this type of intimate contact, rather than being regulated by genetics or diet.

Proc. R. Soc. B 284, 20172274 (2017).

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