Madagascar lemurs descended from single primate ancestor, finds study
YALE News Release
July 11, 2005
Yale biologists have managed to extract and analyze DNA from giant, extinct lemurs, according to a Yale study published in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Radiocarbon dating of the bones and teeth from which the DNA was obtained reveal that each of the individuals analyzed died well over 1,000 years ago, according to the senior author, Anne Yoder, associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Lemurs of Madagascar
Madagascar is world famous for its lemurs -- primates that look something like a cat crossed with a squirrel and a dog. Lemurs belong to a group of primates known as prosimians that were once distributed worldwide but today have been largely replaced by monkeys. It is only because of Madagascar's isolation that lemurs have managed to survive and flourish. Currently about 60 kinds of lemurs are recognized by scientists, a number that has grown in recent years with the discovery of several new species including two this year. Despite these findings, Madagascar's lemur diversity is considerably poorer than when humans first set foot on the island about 2000 years ago. Since then, the island's largest lemurs species have been hunted to extinction and suffered from habitat loss induced by climate change and human activities (especially land-clearing with fire).
Even with these losses, Madagascar's lemurs display a range of interesting behaviors from singing like a whale (the indri) to extracting insects from tree bark using a long twig-shaped finger (the aye-aye).
more on lemurs
Living lemurs comprise more than 50 species, all of which are unique to the island of Madagascar, which is the world’s fourth largest island and east of Africa. Evolutionary analysis of the DNA obtained from the extinct giants reveals that they, like the living lemurs, are descended from a single primate ancestor that colonized Madagascar more than 60 million years ago, Yoder said.
The biologists extracted DNA from nine subfossil individuals in two of the more bizarre extinct species, Palaeopropithecus and Megaladapis. The first has been likened to tree sloths and the second compared to koala bears. Both ranged in body weights from 100 to 150 pounds, as compared to the largest living lemur, Indri indri, which weighs in at fewer than 15 to 17 pounds.
“The most important conclusion to be drawn from our study is that the phylogenetic placement of subfossil lemurs adds additional support to the hypothesis that non–human primates colonized Madagascar only once,” Yoder said. “However, the limited taxonomic success of our study leaves open the possibility that data from additional taxa will overturn this increasingly robust hypothesis.”
Yoder said the researchers’ results support the close relationship of sloth lemurs (Palaeopropithecus) to living indriids, but Megaladapis does not show a sister–group relationship with the living genus Lepilemur. “The classification of the latter in the family Megaladapidae is misleading,” she said.
Yoder said that damaging effects of moisture, ultraviolet irradiation, and tropical heat on DNA survival likely contributed to the inability to obtain DNA from some species. The only samples to yield DNA from tropical localities were the two individuals that were used as positive controls, Yoder said.
“The results of our study contribute to the mountain evidence that suggests that prospects for ancient DNA studies from the tropics are less promising than those from higher latitudes, but when the results are potentially of such compelling interest, it’s always worth a try,” she said.
YALE News Release
CONTACT: Jacqueline Weaver, 203-432-8555 or jacqueline.weaver -AT- yale.edu
Ancient DNA Confirms Single Origin of Malagasy Primates
Citation: PNAS 10: 5090–5095 (April 2005)
This release originally appeared at www.yale.edu/opa/newsr/05-05-27-02.all.html on June 7th, 2005
|Common name||Scientific name||Local name||Active|
|Cheirogaleidae||Mouse and Dwarf lemurs||Nocturnal|
|Hairy-eared Dwarf Mouse-lemur||Allocebus trichotis ||Nocturnal|
|Southern Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur||Cheirogaleus adipicaudatus ||Matavirambo||Nocturnal|
|Furry-eared Dwarf Lemur||Cheirogaleus crossleyi ||Matavirambo||Nocturnal|
|Greater Dwarf Lemur||Cheirogaleus major ||Matavirambo||Nocturnal|
|Western Fat-tailed Dwarf Lemur||Cheirogaleus medius ||Matavirambo, Kely Be-ohy, Tsidy, Tsidihy||Nocturnal|
|Lesser Iron Gray Dwarf Lemur||Cheirogaleus minusculus ||Matavirambo||Nocturnal|
|Greater Iron Gray Dwarf Lemur||Cheirogaleus ravus ||Matavirambo||Nocturnal|
|Sibree's Dwarf Lemur||Cheirogaleus sibreei ||Matavirambo||Nocturnal|
|Gray Mouse-lemur||Microcebus murinus ||Tsidy, Koitsiky, Titilivaha, Vakiandri, Pondiky|
|Pygmy Mouse-lemur||Microcebus myoxinus ||Tsidy||Nocturnal|
|Golden Mouse-lemur||Microcebus ravelobensis ||Tsidy||Nocturnal|
|Red Mouse-lemur||Microcebus rufus ||Anakatsidina, Tsidy, Tsitsidy, Tistsihy||Nocturnal|
|Giant Mouse-lemur or Coquerel's Mouse-lemur||Mirza coquereli ||Tsiba, Tilitilivaha, Siba, Setohy, Fitily|
|Amber Mountain Fork-crowned Lemur||Phaner electromontis ||Tanta, Tantaraolana||Nocturnal|
|Masoala Fork-crowned Lemur||Phaner furcifer ||Tanta, Tantaraolana||Nocturnal|
|Western Fork-crowned Lemur||Phaner pallescens ||Tanta, Tantaraolana, Vakivoho||Nocturnal|
|Sambirano Fork-crowned Lemur||Phaner parienti ||Tanta, Tantaraolana||Nocturnal|
|Aye-aye||Daubentonia madagascariensis||Aye-aye, Ahay, Itay-hay, Aiay||Nocturnal|
|Indridae||Woolly lemurs and allies ||Diurnal|
|Eastern Avahi||Avahi laniger ||Avahina, Avahy, Ampongy, Fotsifaka||Nocturnal|
|Western Avahi||Avahi occidentalis ||Fotsife, Tsarafangitra||Nocturnal|
|Indri lemur||Indri indri indri ||Babakoto, Amboanala||Diurnal|
|Indri lemur||Indri indri variegatus ||Babakoto, Amboanala||Diurnal|
|Coquerel's Sifaka||Propithecus coquereli ||Ankomba malandy, Sifaka, Tsibahaka|
|Crowned Sifaka||Propithecus deckenii coronatus ||Tsibahaka, Sifaka||Diurnal|
|Decken's Sifaka||Propithecus deckenii dekenii ||Tsibahaka, Sifaka||Diurnal|
|Silky Sifaka||Propithecus diadema candidus ||Simpona, Simpony||Diurnal|
|Diademed Sifaka||Propithecus diadema diadema ||Simpona, Simpony||Diurnal|
|Milne-Edwards's Sifaka||Propithecus edwardsi ||Simpona, Simpony||Diurnal|
|Perrier's Sifaka||Propithecus perrieri ||Radjako, Ankomba Job||Diurnal|
|Tattersall's Sifaka||Propithecus tattersalli ||Ankomba malandy, Simpona||Diurnal|
|Verreaux's Sifaka||Propithecus verreauxi ||Sifaka||Diurnal|
|White-fronted Lemur||Eulemur albifrons ||Varika||Diurnal|
|White-collared Lemur||Eulemur albocollaris ||Varika||Diurnal|
|Red-collared Lemur||Eulemur collaris ||Varika||Diurnal|
|Crowned Lemur||Eulemur coronatus ||Varika||Diurnal|
|Brown Lemur||Eulemur fulvus ||Varikamavo, Komba||Diurnal|
|Black Lemur||Eulemur macaco ||Ankomba, Komba||Diurnal|
|Blue-eyed Black Lemur||Eulemur macaco flavifrons||Ankomba, Komba||Diurnal|
|Mongoose Lemur||Eulemur mongoz ||Komba||Diurnal|
|Red-bellied Lemur||Eulemur rubriventer ||Varikamena||Diurnal|
|Red-fronted Lemur||Eulemur rufus ||Varika, Varikamavo||Diurnal|
|Sanford's Lemur||Eulemur sanfordi ||Ankomba, Beharavoaka||Diurnal|
|Alaotran Gentle Lemur||Hapalemur alaotrensis ||Bandro||Diurnal|
|Golden Gentle Lemur||Hapalemur aureus ||Varibolomena, Bokombolomena||Diurnal|
|Gray Gentle Lemur||Hapalemur griseus ||Varibolomadinika||Diurnal|
|Sambriano Gentle Lemur||Hapalemur occidentalis ||Bekola, Kofi, Ankomba valiha||Diurnal|
|Ring-tailed Lemur||Lemur catta ||Maki, Hira||Diurnal|
|Broad-nosed Gentle Lemur||Prolemur simus ||Varibolomavo, Vari, Varikandra||Diurnal|
|Red Ruffed Lemur||Varecia rubra ||Varimena||Diurnal|
|Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur||Varecia variegata ||Varijatsy||Diurnal|
|Megaladapidae||Sportive lemurs ||Nocturnal|
|Back-striped Sportive Lemur||Lepilemur dorsalis ||Apongy||Nocturnal|
|Milne-Edwards's Sportive Lemur||Lepilemur edwardsi ||Boenga, Boengy, Repahaka||Nocturnal|
|White-footed Sportive Lemur||Lepilemur leucopus ||Songiky||Nocturnal|
|Small-toothed Sportive Lemur||Lepilemur microdon ||Trangalavaka, Kotrika or Kotreka, Fitiliky, Itataka, Varikosy||Nocturnal|
|Mitsinjo Sportive Lemur||Lepilemur mitsinjonensis||Kotrika, Varikosy||Nocturnal|
|Weasel Lemur||Lepilemur mustelinus ||Trangalavaka, Kotrika, Fitiliky, Itataka, Varikosy||Nocturnal|
|Red-tailed Sportive Lemur||Lepilemur ruficaudatus ||Boenga, Boengy||Nocturnal|
|Ankarana Sportive Lemur||Lepilemur septentrionalis ankaranensis ||Mahiabeala, Songiky||Nocturnal|
|Seal's Sportive Lemur||Lepilemur seali||Songiky||Nocturnal|
|Northern Sportive Lemur||Lepilemur septentrionalis septentrionalis ||Mahiabeala, Songiky||Nocturnal|
For more on Madagascar, take a look at WildMadagascar.org.
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