Different coat color may not mean different species for lemurs

November 16, 2006
Different coat color may not mean different species for lemurs
Mouse lemurs with distinct coat colors and shared genetics. Credit: L. R. Godfrey

Researchers have found that lemurs suspected to belong to different species because of their strikingly different coat colors, are not only genetically alike, but belong to the same species.

Historically, species classification has been based on comparison of visible physical characteristics of plants or animals. Kellie Heckman, a post-doctoral fellow in ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale, and her colleagues at other universities, used analysis of a mitochondrial gene, cytochrome b, to test the genetic relationship of 70 lemurs that were thought to belong to up to three different species. Their report was published in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

"Our study combined morphological, genetic, geographic, and ecological data giving a multidimensional, and hopefully more accurate picture of species diversity," said Heckman. "Over the past decade, the number of proposed species of these lemurs has jumped from two to fifteen, based on physical differences. It pointed to the need for caution when identifying new species solely on the basis of visual or genetic characteristics."

The lemurs they tested had three extremely different coat colors and lived in different types of forest locations in southern Madagascar -- classic characteristics of separate species. These researchers chose to compare mitochondrial cytochrome b as a gene marker that is known to change at a rate similar to that of speciation. Other common nuclear genes may evolve more slowly or more rapidly with population drift.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that although the lemurs appeared to be different species because they were visually distinct, they did not differ genetically. According to the sequence of their cytochrome b genes, all belong to the same previously identified species, Microcebus griseorufus.

The authors also show that lemurs with each of the three different coat colors could be found in all three geographical locations in similar proportions. They note that lemurs are nocturnal animals and tend to depend on auditory cues, or smell, more than on visual cues to recognise each other. They say that this could explain why a certain amount of variation in coat color does not affect species recognition in the mouse lemurs.

"There is a remarkable amount of diversity in primates," said Heckman. "We wanted to more thoroughly document this with both morphologic and genetic analysis."

Source: Yale University

Explore further: New population of rare giant-mouse lemurs found in Madagascar

Related Stories

Gaming for a smarter America

October 27, 2005

Video games have the potential to improve learning in the United States and keep the nation at the fore of global competition, say hopeful education and technology experts.

Recommended for you

Humans, not climate change, wiped out Australian megafauna

January 20, 2017

New evidence involving the ancient poop of some of the huge and astonishing creatures that once roamed Australia indicates the primary cause of their extinction around 45,000 years ago was likely a result of humans, not climate ...

Video: A colorful 'landing' on Pluto

January 20, 2017

What would it be like to actually land on Pluto? This movie was made from more than 100 images taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft over six weeks of approach and close flyby in the summer of 2015. The video offers a trip ...

Freeze-dried food and 1 bathroom: 6 simulate Mars in dome

January 20, 2017

Crammed into a dome with one bathroom, six scientists will spend eight months munching on mostly freeze-dried foods—with a rare treat of Spam—and have only their small sleeping quarters to retreat to for solace.

0 comments

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.