New Dwarf Lemur Species Discovered in Madagascar

Posted on July 29, 2013

Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur

A new species of dwarf lemur has been discovered in Madagascar. The Lavasoa dwarf lemur was initially assigned to the species Cheirogaleus crossleyi. New genetic analysis reveals that it represents a distinct species. The newly described Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur (Cheirogaleus lavasoensis) inhabits three isolated forest fragments in the extreme south of Madagascar. There may as few as 50 of these rare and extremely endangered dwarf lemurs remaining.

The lifestyle of dwarf lemurs makes them extremely difficult to study. It also explains why it took so long for them to be identified as a unique species. They are nocturnal forest dwellers and often remain in the upper parts of the forest canopy. They also hibernate for several months during the austral winter. Their main period of activity is the rainy season, when many of the forests they inhabit are virtually inaccessible to scientists.

Dr. Andreas Hapke of the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), said in a statement, "Together with Malagasy scientists, we have been studying the diversity of lemurs for several years now. It is only now that we were able to determine that some of the animals examined represent a previously unknown species."

The tissue samples were subjected to molecular-genetic analysis at the Institute of Anthropology at Mainz University. Dana Thiele of the JGU Institute of Anthropology, says, "The new data from southern Madagascar enabled us to significantly enlarge existing datasets. "We then used extensive data analyses to examine the genetic diversity in two closely related lemur genera, the mouse lemurs (Microcebus) and the dwarf lemurs (Cheirogaleus). The comparison showed that the species diversity of dwarf lemurs is greater than previously thought."

The findings of the research project were published in the journal, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

Photo: Andreas Hapke

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