Open Access Research article

Hybridization of mouse lemurs: different patterns under different ecological conditions

Andreas Hapke1*, Mark Gligor12, S Jacques Rakotondranary3, David Rosenkranz1 and Oliver Zupke14

Author Affiliations

1 Institut für Anthropologie, Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Colonel-Kleinmann-Weg 2, 55099 Mainz, Germany

2 Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, Projektträger Jülich, BIO1, 52425 Jülich, Germany

3 Department of Animal Ecology and Conservation, University of Hamburg, Biozentrum Grindel, Martin-Luther-King Platz 3, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

4 III. Medizinische Klinik und Poliklinik, Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Langenbeckstr. 1, 55131 Mainz, Germany

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:297  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-297

Published: 11 October 2011



Several mechanistic models aim to explain the diversification of the multitude of endemic species on Madagascar. The island's biogeographic history probably offered numerous opportunities for secondary contact and subsequent hybridization. Existing diversification models do not consider a possible role of these processes. One key question for a better understanding of their potential importance is how they are influenced by different environmental settings. Here, we characterized a contact zone between two species of mouse lemurs, Microcebus griseorufus and M. murinus, in dry spiny bush and mesic gallery forest that border each other sharply without intermediate habitats between them. We performed population genetic analyses based on mtDNA sequences and nine nuclear microsatellites and compared the results to a known hybrid zone of the same species in a nearby wide gradient from dry spiny bush over transitional forest to humid littoral forest.


In the spiny-gallery system, Microcebus griseorufus is restricted to the spiny bush; Microcebus murinus occurs in gallery forest and locally invades the dryer habitat of its congener. We found evidence for bidirectional introgressive hybridization, which is closely linked to increased spatial overlap within the spiny bush. Within 159 individuals, we observed 18 hybrids with mitochondrial haplotypes of both species. Analyses of simulated microsatellite data indicate that we identified hybrids with great accuracy and that we probably underestimated their true number. We discuss short-term climatic fluctuations as potential trigger for the dynamic of invasion and subsequent hybridization. In the gradient hybrid zone in turn, long-term aridification could have favored unidirectional nuclear introgression from Microcebus griseorufus into M. murinus in transitional forest.


Madagascar's southeastern transitional zone harbors two very different hybrid zones of mouse lemurs in different environmental settings. This sheds light on the multitude of opportunities for the formation of hybrid zones and indicates an important influence of environmental factors on secondary contact and hybridization. Our findings suggest that hybridization could enhance the adaptability of mouse lemurs without necessarily leading to a loss of distinctiveness. They point to a potential role of hybridization in Madagascar's diversification history that requires further investigation.