AboutZoos, Since 2008


Lemur looka­likes are two new species, DNA reveals

pub­lished 27 March 2013 | mod­i­fied 08 March 2014

Marohita mouse lemurSci­en­tists have iden­ti­fied two new species of mouse lemur, the saucer-​eyed, teacup-​sized pri­mates native to the African island of Mada­gas­car.

The new study brings the num­ber of recog­nised mouse lemur species to 20, mak­ing them the most diverse group of lemurs known. But because these shy, noc­tur­nal pri­mates look so much alike, it’s only pos­si­ble to tell them apart with genetic sequenc­ing. The study is pub­lished online in the March 26 issue of the Inter­na­tional Jour­nal of Pri­ma­tol­ogy.

The researchers named one of the new species the Anosy mouse lemur, or Micro­ce­bus tanosi. Anosy mouse lemurs are close neigh­bours with grey mouse lemurs and grey-​brown mouse lemurs, but the genetic data indi­cate they don’t interbreed.
The other new species was named the Maro­hita mouse lemur, or Micro­ce­bus maro­hita, after the for­est where it was found. In Mala­gasy, the word ‘maro­hita’ means ‘many views’. “Despite its species’ name, this mouse lemur is threat­ened by ongo­ing habi­tat destruc­tion, and ‘many views’ of its mem­bers are unlikely,” the researchers write.

You can’t really tell them apart just look­ing at them through binoc­u­lars in the rainforest
Peter Kap­peler, senior author, Ger­man Pri­mate Cen­ter in Goettingen »

The new mouse lemurs weigh 2.5 to 3 ounces (about 65 to 85 grams) and have grey-​brown fur.

The two new species were first cap­tured by co-​author Rodin Rasoloari­son of the Uni­ver­sity of Antana­narivo in Mada­gas­car dur­ing trips to the east­ern part of the coun­try in 2003 and 2007. Rasoloari­son weighed and mea­sured them and took tiny skin sam­ples for genetic analy­sis in the lab. Co-​authors Anne Yoder and Dave Weis­rock, both at Duke Uni­ver­sity at the time, analysed two mito­chon­dr­ial and four nuclear DNA genes to fig­ure out where the ani­mals fit into the lemur fam­ily tree. Their genetic analy­ses were pub­lished in 2010, but this is the first time the species have been for­mally named and described.

Dur­ing a 2012 return trip to the for­est where the Maro­hita mouse lemur lives, Rasoloari­son dis­cov­ered that much of the lemur’s for­est home had been cleared since his first visit in 2003. The state of the lemur’s habi­tat prompted the Inter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Nature (IUCN) to clas­sify the new species as “endan­gered” even before it was for­mally described.

“This species is a prime exam­ple of the cur­rent state of many other lemur species,” Kap­peler said. Mouse lemurs have lived in Mada­gas­car for 7 to 10 mil­lion years. But since humans arrived on the island some 2,500 years ago, log­ging and slash and burn agri­cul­ture have taken their toll on the forests where these tree-​dwelling pri­mates live. Only 10 per­cent of Madagascar’s orig­i­nal forests remain today, which makes lemurs the most endan­gered mam­mals in the world accord­ing to the IUCN.

“Know­ing exactly how many species we have is essen­tial for deter­min­ing which areas to tar­get for con­ser­va­tion,” Kap­peler said.

A bet­ter under­stand­ing of mouse lemur diver­sity could help humans too. Mouse lemurs are a closer genetic match to humans than mice and rats, the most com­mon lab ani­mals. At least one species — the grey mouse lemur (Micro­ce­bus mur­i­nus) — devel­ops a neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease that is strik­ingly sim­i­lar to human Alzheimer’s, so the ani­mals are con­sid­ered impor­tant mod­els for under­stand­ing the age­ing brain. “But before we can say whether a par­tic­u­lar genetic vari­ant in mouse lemurs is asso­ci­ated with Alzheimer’s, we need to know whether that vari­ant is spe­cific to all mouse lemurs or just select species,” said Lemur Cen­ter Direc­tor Anne Yoder.

“Every new mouse lemur species that we sam­ple in the wild will help researchers put the genetic diver­sity we see in grey mouse lemurs in a broader con­text,” she said.

(Source: Duke Uni­ver­sity news release, 27.03.2013)

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