Marni LaFleur

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research interests:

My research examines both the flora and fauna of Madagascar. Specifically, I aim to understand the proximate and ultimate causes and consequences of female dominance within the lemurs. Female dominance is highly unusual within primates, and even the extended mammalian order, but is the norm in lemurs. Theoretically, because female mammalian reproduction is energetically expensive, we might expect widespread female dominance, as this offers females feeding priority. However, androgenic masculinization of females appears to decrease fitness in most mammals, with the curious exception of lemurs. Some hyenas and naked mole rats also show female dominance, but in these species females hold a size advantage over males. Thus, in lemurs, female dominance is socially mediated and simply not well understood.

In addition to evolutionary pursuits, my work examines the perilous future of Madagascar’s biodiversity. Climate change and rapid anthropogenic disturbance imminently threaten the very existence of most lemur species, along with entire biomes in Madagascar. Understanding the connections between climatic conditions and Madagascar’s biodiversity, along with the roles of poverty alleviation in habitat preservation, offer the best possible future for lemurs and drive my scientific explorations.