Source: New Scientist
Date: 9 August 2005

Madagascar reveals two new species of lemur

picture of Microcebus lehilahytsara

Madagascar, nicknamed the “8th Continent” because of its diversity of species, continues to reveal new secrets - and they do not get much cuter than this. Biologists have discovered two new species of lemur, endangered primates that are ancestral to monkeys and apes, and that exist now only on the island. The finds bring the total number of known lemur species to 49.

The first discovery was made when scientists analysed morphological, genetic and behavioural data from distinct populations of what they thought was the giant mouse lemur. Peter Kappeler, of the German Primate Centre in Göttingen, Germany, found that the populations were actually different species and named the new one Mirza zaza. The second new species (pictured) is a mouse lemur, identified by morphological and genetic analyses by Robert Zingg of Zoo Zürich in Switzerland. It has been named Microcebus lehilahytsara. Surprisingly, it was discovered in Andasibe, a protected area on the east of the island that is considered one of the biologically best-known sites in Madagascar.

Scratching the surface

"The discovery of these two new species highlights the fact that we still have a lot to learn about patterns and causes of biodiversity, even among our closest biological cousins," says Kappeler.

Lesley Dickie, a Madagascar expert at London Zoo, UK, says that lemur diversity is turning out be far more complex than originally thought, and reflects the ecological complexity of the island. “In reality, the lemurs are the most intensively studied of the mammal fauna, [yet] in many ways we have only scratched the surface,” she notes.

The new findings will be presented on 10 August at the Congress of the European Federation for Primatology in Göttingen.

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