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A molecular approach to comparative phylogeography of extant Malagasy lemurs

  • Jennifer Pastorini
  • Urs Thalmann
  • Robert D. Martin
The National Academy of Sciences
Publication Date
Apr 28, 2003


The lemurs of Madagascar provide an excellent model for exploring evolutionary diversification. This study investigates genetic divergence among most extant lemur taxa in relation to potential geographical boundaries to gene flow. For this purpose, ≈2,400 bp of mitochondrial DNA (part of the COIII gene; ND3, ND4L, and ND4 genes; and five tRNAs) were sequenced in a total of 131 lemurs from 5 families, 12 genera, 25 species, and 18 subspecies to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships among them. The comprehensive range of taxa makes this a particularly suitable molecular data set to examine lemur evolution. Those data clearly reveal that the Betsiboka River acts as an isolating barrier between populations of lemurs in north-western Madagascar. The Tsiribihina River similarly serves as a barrier to gene flow between northern and southern populations of lemurs in central western Madagascar, whereas the Mahavavy River does not seem to lead to genetic isolation of lemur populations. Several discrepancies among molecular data, current taxonomy, and geographic distribution along the western coast emerged. Examination of geographical distribution of the taxa concerned in comparison with distribution boundaries of other lemur taxa in that region yielded explanations for these inconsistencies. Eulemur fulvus and Eulemur mongoz are the only lemur taxa that also occur outside Madagascar, on the Comoro Islands. Genetic data show no significant differentiation between Malagasy and Comorian populations of these species, supporting the interpretation that both were introduced only recently to the Comoro Islands.

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