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Species delimitation in lemurs: multiple genetic loci reveal low levels of species diversity in the genus Cheirogaleus

Linn F Groeneveld15*, David W Weisrock26, Rodin M Rasoloarison13, Anne D Yoder2 and Peter M Kappeler14

Author Affiliations

1 Sociobiology and Behavioral Ecology, German Primate Center, Kellnerweg 4, 37077 Göttingen, Germany

2 Department of Biology, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

3 Département de Biologie Animale, Université d'Antananarivo, Antananarivo, Madagascar

4 Sociobiology and Anthropology, Institute for Zoology, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany

5 Breeding and Genetic Resources, Institute of Farm Animal Genetics, Friedrich Loeffler Institut, 31535 Neustadt-Mariensee, Germany

6 Department of Biology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:30  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-30

Published: 4 February 2009



Species are viewed as the fundamental unit in most subdisciplines of biology. To conservationists this unit represents the currency for global biodiversity assessments. Even though Madagascar belongs to one of the top eight biodiversity hotspots of the world, the taxonomy of its charismatic lemuriform primates is not stable. Within the last 25 years, the number of described lemur species has more than doubled, with many newly described species identified among the nocturnal and small-bodied cheirogaleids. Here, we characterize the diversity of the dwarf lemurs (genus Cheirogaleus) and assess the status of the seven described species, based on phylogenetic and population genetic analysis of mtDNA (cytb + cox2) and three nuclear markers (adora3, fiba and vWF).


This study identified three distinct evolutionary lineages within the genus Cheirogaleus. Population genetic cluster analyses revealed a further layer of population divergence with six distinct genotypic clusters.


Based on the general metapopulation lineage concept and multiple concordant data sets, we identify three exclusive groups of dwarf lemur populations that correspond to three of the seven named species: C. major, C. medius and C. crossleyi. These three species were found to be genealogically exclusive in both mtDNA and nDNA loci and are morphologically distinguishable. The molecular and morphometric data indicate that C. adipicaudatus and C. ravus are synonymous with C. medius and C. major, respectively. Cheirogaleus sibreei falls into the C. medius mtDNA clade, but in morphological analyses the membership is not clearly resolved. We do not have sufficient data to assess the status of C. minusculus. Although additional patterns of population differentiation are evident, there are no clear subdivisions that would warrant additional specific status. We propose that ecological and more geographic data should be collected to confirm these results.