Design, delivery and perception of condition-dependent chemical signals in strepsirrhine primates: implications for human olfactory communication.
The study of human chemical communication benefits from comparative perspectives that relate humans, conceptually and empirically, to other primates. All major primate groups rely on intraspecific chemosignals, but strepsirrhines present the greatest diversity and specialization, providing a rich framework for examining design, delivery and perception. Strepsirrhines actively scent mark, possess a functional vomeronasal organ, investigate scents via olfactory and gustatory means, and are exquisitely sensitive to chemically encoded messages. Variation in delivery, scent mixing and multimodality alters signal detection, longevity and intended audience. Based on an integrative, 19-species review, the main scent source used (excretory versus glandular) differentiates nocturnal from diurnal or cathemeral species, reflecting differing socioecological demands and evolutionary trajectories. Condition-dependent signals reflect immutable (species, sex, identity, genetic diversity, immunity and kinship) and transient (health, social status, reproductive state and breeding history) traits, consistent with socio-reproductive functions. Sex reversals in glandular elaboration, marking rates or chemical richness in female-dominant species implicate sexual selection of olfactory ornaments in both sexes. Whereas some compounds may be endogenously produced and modified (e.g. via hormones), microbial analyses of different odorants support the fermentation hypothesis of bacterial contribution. The intimate contexts of information transfer and varied functions provide important parallels applicable to olfactory communication in humans. This article is part of the Theo Murphy meeting issue 'Olfactory communication in humans'.