"Life history space": A multivariate analysis of life history variation in extant and extinct malagasy lemurs

Kierstin K. Catlett, Gary Schwartz, Laurie R. Godfrey, William L. Jungers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Studies of primate life history variation are constrained by the fact that all large-bodied extant primates are haplorhines. However, large-bodied strepsirrhines recently existed. If we can extract life history information from their skeletons, these species can contribute to our understanding of primate life history variation. This is particularly important in light of new critiques of the classic "fast-slow continuum" as a descriptor of variation in life history profiles across mammals in general. We use established dental histological methods to estimate gestation length and age at weaning for five extinct lemur species. On the basis of these estimates, we reconstruct minimum interbirth intervals and maximum reproductive rates. We utilize principal components analysis to create a multivariate "life history space" that captures the relationships among reproductive parameters and brain and body size in extinct and extant lemurs. Our data show that, whereas large-bodied extinct lemurs can be described as "slow" in some fashion, they also varied greatly in their life history profiles. Those with relatively large brains also weaned their offspring late and had long interbirth intervals. These were not the largest of extinct lemurs. Thus, we distinguish size-related life history variation from variation that linked more strongly to ecological factors. Because all lemur species larger than 10 kg, regardless of life history profile, succumbed to extinction after humans arrived in Madagascar, we argue that large body size increased the probability of extinction independently of reproductive rate. We also provide some evidence that, among lemurs, brain size predicts reproductive rate better than body size.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)391-404
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2010


  • Age at weaning
  • Brain size
  • Daubentonia
  • Dental development
  • Gestation length
  • Hadropithecus
  • Interbirth interval
  • Madagascar
  • Mesopropithecus
  • Reproductive rate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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