Scientists have identified three new species of mouse lemurs in Madagascar, taking the total number of known mouse lemur species to 24. As little as 20 years ago, only two species of these small, nocturnal primates were known. The newly identified species live in the South and East of Madagascar and increase the number of known mouse lemur species to 24, researchers said.
Mouse lemurs are small, nocturnal primates, which are only found in Madagascar - and they all look very similar with their brown fur and large eyes. Different species can be distinguished reliably only by means of genetic methods.
“By using new, objective methods to assess genetic differences between individuals, we were able to find independent evidence that these three mouse lemurs represent new species,” said Peter Kappeler, from the German Primate Centre (DPZ).
In addition, the analysis confirmed the status of the previously described 21 species. “The genetic techniques we used could facilitate species identification, thus also contributing to further new descriptions in other animal groups,” said Kappeler.
Besides improved analytical methods, expeditions to remote and inaccessible forests contribute to the fact that the diversity of these distant relatives of humans becomes better known, researchers said.
“To know the exact distribution area of individual species is necessary to identify functioning protected areas,” said Kappeler. “Furthermore, this new information is an important element towards better understanding how biodiversity on Madagascar arose,” he said.
One of the species was named Ganzhorn’s mouse lemur (Microcebus ganzhorni), after Jorg Ganzhorn from Hamburg University, who has been engaged in research and protection of lemurs for decades. The second species was named Microcebus manitatra, symbolising the expansion of the range of a subgroup from western Madagascar. The third member, Microcebus boraha, is named after its location on the Island of Sainte Marie in Malagasy Nosy Boraha.
According to the “Red List” of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) more than 100 known species of lemurs are threatened by extinction and represent the world’s most endangered group of mammals, researchers said. Deforestation and hunting are the main causes of the threat to lemurs in one of the poorest countries of the world, they said.