I’ve tracked down the paper published in April of 2006, in the journal International Journal of Primatology, on the discovery of the three new species of mouse lemur from Madagascar. The paper is titled, “Revision of the Mouse Lemurs (Microcebus) of Eastern Madagascar” from Edward E. Louis, et al. The abstract reads,

“Phylogenetic analysis of ca. 4500 base pairs of mitochondrial DNA sequence data reveals further genetic diversity in mouse lemurs (Microcebus) on the eastern and western coasts of Madagascar. Molecular data and phylogenetic analyses revise the previously monotypic species of eastern Madagascar, Microcebus rufus, with the description of 3 new species. Three additional Microcebus species are proposed in eastern Madagascar, along with another Microcebus species in western Madagascar. Correlating the molecular data with previously generated sequence data, we present a tentative pattern of distribution along the east coast. We show that the general distribution of Microcebus is based on a traditional eastern/western division. The preliminary model appears strongly influenced by both rivers and altitudinal differences acting independently as barriers.”

I wanted to comment on the article because I feel like the researchers really integrated molecular evolution data and ecological distribution effectively. Mouse lemur have been pretty hard to snag, because (just as their name implies) they are small. Additionally they are nocturnal and shy, making it hard for people to document new species. Only about a dozen known species of mice lemur were to said to have existed up until 2000 (Yoder et al., 2000). With 3 more to add onto the mouse lemur geunus, this discovery significantly raises the question, “Are there more mouse lemurs in eastern Madagascar?”

In order to fully answer that question researchers sequenced 60 mtDNA samples from collected lemurs and their results yielded 15 clades, differentiating the 8 already identificed Microcebus and the 3 newly described species. But to my surprise, since it wasn’t documented in the news headlines, there are also 4 other proposed mouse lemur taxa. Futhermore, Louis and crew also realized a species of mouse lemur, specifically Microcebus griseorufus occupies an ecological niche not previously known at Tsimanampetsotsa.

This new discovery has great potential because it provides more information that there is a really diverse population of lemur occupying Madagascar, convincing me that there is more incentive than ever to promote preservation of habitats and conserve as many species as possible before lemur populations are devastated by deforestation. I justify this because lemur are one of the most primitive primate species alive today. In order to understand primate evolution fully, preserving these “living primate fossils” provides an excellent foundation to understand how primates diversified into the species we see today.