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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Molecular phylogeny and taxonomic revision of the sportive lemurs (Lepilemur, Primates)

Nicole Andriaholinirina12, Jean-Luc Fausser1, Christian Roos34, Dietmar Zinner5, Urs Thalmann6, Clément Rabarivola7, Iary Ravoarimanana8, Jörg U Ganzhorn9, Bernhard Meier8, Roland Hilgartner10, Lutz Walter3, Alphonse Zaramody11, Christoph Langer12, Thomas Hahn13, Elke Zimmermann14, Ute Radespiel14, Mathias Craul14, Jürgen Tomiuk15, Ian Tattersall16 and Yves Rumpler1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institut d'Embryologie, Université Louis Pasteur, Faculté de Médecine-EA3428, 11 rue Humann, 67085 Strasbourg, France

2 Faculté des Sciences Dépt. d'Anthropologie Biologique, Antananarivo, Madagascar

3 Primate Genetics, Deutsches Primatenzentrum, Kellnerweg 4, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

4 Gene Bank of Primates, Deutsches Primatenzentrum, Kellnerweg 4, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

5 Cognitive Ethology, Deutsches Primatenzentrum, Kellnerweg 4, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

6 Anthropological Institute, University of Zürich, Winterthurerstr. 190, 8057 Zürich, Switzerland

7 Faculté des Sciences de Mahajanga, Mahajanga, Madagascar

8 Kölnerstr. 88, 57368 Grevenbrück, Germany

9 Abt. Tierökologie und Naturschutz, Biozentrum Grindel, Universität Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany

10 Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, Deutsches Primatenzentrum, Kellnerweg 4, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

11 Université de Mahajanga, Faculté des Sciences, Dépt. de Biologie Animale, B.P. 652, Mahajanga 401, Madagascar

12 von Freybergstr. 45, 87629 Füssen, Germany

13 Dept. of Cell Physiology, Max-Planck-Institute for Medical Research, Jahnstr. 29, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

14 Institute of Zoology, University of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover, Bünteweg 17, 30559 Hannover, Germany

15 Institute of Human Genetics, University of Tübingen, Wilhelmstr. 27, 72074 Tübingen, Germany

16 Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History New York, New York 10024, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2006, 6:17  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-6-17

Published: 23 February 2006



The number of species within the Malagasy genus Lepilemur and their phylogenetic relationships is disputed and controversial. In order to establish their evolutionary relationships, a comparative cytogenetic and molecular study was performed. We sequenced the complete mitochondrial cytochrome b gene (1140 bp) from 68 individuals representing all eight sportive lemur species and most major populations, and compared the results with those obtained from cytogenetic studies derived from 99 specimens.


Interspecific genetic variation, diagnostic characters and significantly supported phylogenetic relationships were obtained from the mitochondrial sequence data and are in agreement with cytogenetic information. The results confirm the distinctiveness of Lepilemur ankaranensis, L. dorsalis, L. edwardsi, L. leucopus, L. microdon, L. mustelinus, L. ruficaudatus and L. septentrionalis on species level. Additionally, within L. ruficaudatus large genetic differences were observed among different geographic populations. L. dorsalis from Sahamalaza Peninsula and from the Ambanja/Nosy Be region are paraphyletic, with the latter forming a sister group to L. ankaranensis.


Our results support the classification of the eight major sportive lemur taxa as independent species. Moreover, our data indicate further cryptic speciation events within L. ruficaudatus and L. dorsalis. Based on molecular data we propose to recognize the sportive lemur populations from north of the Tsiribihina River, south of the Betsiboka River, and from the Sahamalaza Peninsula, as distinct species.