Light is the primary synchronizer of all biological rhythms, yet little is known about the role of the 24-hour luminous environment on nonhuman primate circadian patterns, making it difficult to understand the photic niche of the ancestral primate. Here we present the first data on proximate light-dark exposure and activity-rest patterns in free-ranging nonhuman primates. Four individuals each of five species of lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center (Eulemur mongoz, Lemur catta, Propithecus coquereli, Varecia rubra, and Varecia variegata variegata) were fitted with a Daysimeter-D pendant that contained light and accelerometer sensors. Our results reveal common as well as species-specific light exposure and behavior patterns. As expected, all five species were more active between sunrise and sunset. All five species demonstrated an anticipatory increase in their pre-sunrise activity that peaked at sunrise with all but V. rubra showing a reduction within an hour. All five species reduced activity during mid-day. Four of the five stayed active after sunset, but P. coquereli began reducing their activity about 2 hours before sunset. Other subtle differences in the recorded light exposure and activity patterns suggest species-specific photic niches and behaviors. The eventual application of the Daysimeter-D in the wild may help to better understand the adaptive evolution of ancestral primates.
- photic niche