Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Unexpected species diversity of Malagasy primates (Lepilemur spp.) in the same biogeographical zone: a morphological and molecular approach with the description of two new species

Mathias Craul1*, Elke Zimmermann1, Solofonirina Rasoloharijaona2, Blanchard Randrianambinina2 and Ute Radespiel1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Zoology, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Buenteweg 17, 30559 Hannover, Germany

2 Faculté des Sciences, Université d'Antananarivo, Antananarivo 101, Madagascar

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:83  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-83

Published: 31 May 2007



The lemurs of Madagascar provide an excellent mammalian radiation to explore mechanisms and processes favouring species diversity and evolution. Species diversity, in particular of nocturnal species, increased considerably during the last decade. However, the factors contributing to this high diversity are not well understood. We tested predictions derived from two existing biogeographic models by exploring the genetic and morphological divergence among populations of a widely distributed lemur genus, the sportive lemur (Lepilemur ssp.) along a 560 km long transect from western to northern Madagascar.


By using the phylogenetic analyses of mtDNA sequence data, molecular diagnostic sites and phenotypic morphometric traits, we uncovered two previously undetected species whose distributions contradict the two existing biogeographic models. Brief species descriptions are provided and a new biogeographic model is proposed (the ”large river model“).


According to the ”large river model“, large rivers in north and northwestern Madagascar acted as geographical barriers for gene flow and facilitated speciation events on a much smaller spatial scale than previously thought. Thereby, this study does not only show that species diversity in nocturnal Malagasy primates is continuously underestimated but aims to emphasize the need for conservation actions if those species with small ranges shall not face extinction in the near future.