Only known living population of rare dwarf lemur found

April 8, 2010

( -- Elusive species "rediscovered" a century after first sighting.

Researchers have discovered the world's only known living population of Sibree's Dwarf , a rare lemur known only in eastern Madagascar. The discovery of approximately a thousand of these lemurs was made by Mitchell Irwin, a Research Associate at McGill University, and colleagues from the German Primate Centre in Göttingen Germany; the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar; and the University of Massachusetts.

The was first discovered in Madagascar in 1896, but this tiny, nocturnal dwarf lemur was never studied throughout the 20th century. Following the destruction of its only known rainforest habitat, scientists had no idea whether the species still existed in the wild - or even whether it was a . The study will be published in the current issue of the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

Irwin first observed dwarf lemurs at Tsinjoarivo, Madagascar, in 2001, shortly after setting up a long-term rainforest research site. "Even then we knew something was unusual about them," Irwin said. "Instead of the rainforest species we expected to see, our lemur resembled the species known from dry western forests, only it was much larger."

In 2006, Irwin began collaborating with Marina Blanco, University of Massachusetts at Amherst who trapped dwarf lemurs at several sites throughout Tsinjoarivo. This work led to the further surprise that two morphologically distinct dwarf lemur species were present, living side-by-side. Further work by geneticist Linn Groeneveld, German Primate Center confirmed the existence of the more common Crossley's dwarf lemur, and the elusive Sibree's dwarf lemur.

The new study showed the mystery lemurs to be very similar to the only known specimen of Sibree's dwarf lemur, now in The Natural History Museum in London, England. shows the mystery lemurs to be highly distinct from all other known species. In fact, the genetic analyses confirmed that of the four known dwarf lemur species, this is the most genetically unique and probably closely resembles the ancestor that gave rise to the other species.

Irwin is hopeful that this new discovery will lead to increased conservation efforts. "On one hand, you want to get the taxonomy right, just to determine how many dwarf lemur species are out there," said Irwin. But protecting this newly rediscovered species from extinction in a country ravaged by habitat destruction is the next challenge. "Without the recognition provided by this study, this species probably would have gone extinct in the near future. Protecting its only known population and determining how many individuals are left are now top priorities, especially since much of this region's forests have already disappeared."

Explore further: New population of highly threatened greater bamboo lemur found in Madagascar

Related Stories

Lemur's evolutionary history may shed light on our own

February 25, 2008

After swabbing the cheeks of more than 200 lemurs and related primates to collect their DNA, researchers at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy (IGSP) and Duke Lemur Center now have a much clearer picture of their ...

Recommended for you

Study shows how giraffe assassin bugs outwit spider prey

October 26, 2016

(—A biologist at Macquarie University in Australia has discovered the secret behind the giraffe assassin's ability to catch and kill spiders in their webs. In his paper published on the open access site Royal Society ...

New analysis of big data sheds light on cell functions

October 26, 2016

Researchers have developed a new way of obtaining useful information from big data in biology to better understand—and predict—what goes on inside a cell. Using genome-scale models, researchers were able to integrate ...

Researchers identify genes for 'Help me!' aromas from corn

October 25, 2016

When corn seedlings are nibbled by caterpillars, they defend themselves by releasing scent compounds that attract parasitic wasps whose larvae consume the caterpillar—but not all corn varieties are equally effective at ...

Structure of key DNA replication protein solved

October 25, 2016

A research team led by scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) has solved the three-dimensional structure of a key protein that helps damaged cellular DNA repair itself. Investigators say that knowing ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Apr 09, 2010
"the most genetically unique and probably closely resembles the ancestor that gave rise to the other species."

Would a ancestor of multiple species really be the most unique? I mean should not most of the traits of the ancestor be passed on?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.