Mar 28

Scientists have discovered two new species of mouse lemur in Madagascar, bringing the total number of these tiny primate species to 20.

Photo of grey mouse-lemur

The grey mouse-lemur, one of 20 mouse lemur species currently known to science

The mouse lemurs were collected during field surveys in 2003 and 2007, and genetic analysis has now shown them to be distinct species. In a paper recently published in the International Journal of Primatology, the scientists named the new species the Marohita mouse lemur (Microcebus marohita) and the Anosy mouse lemur (Microcebus tanosi).

The Marohita mouse lemur is named after the forest in which it was collected, while the Anosy mouse lemur is named after its distribution in the Anosy region in southeast Madagascar.

Miniscule primates

Mouse lemurs are some of the smallest primates in the world. All are nocturnal and live in Madagascar’s forests, where they feed on a range of insects, fruit, flowers, sap and even small vertebrates, such as frogs and geckos.

Photo of grey mouse-lemur sniffing flowering plant

Although one of the largest mouse lemurs, the grey mouse-lemur is still one of the world’s smallest primates

The two new species are unusually large for mouse lemurs, with the Marohita mouse lemur reaching lengths of 28 centimetres and weights of about 78 grams. This makes it the largest of the known mouse lemurs. At 27 centimetres and around 50 grams, the Anosy mouse lemur becomes the second largest mouse lemur known to science.

New species discoveries

The rate at which new lemur species have been discovered in Madagascar has dramatically increased in the past decade. The mouse lemurs are one of the most species-rich groups of lemurs, but these tiny primates look so similar that genetic analysis is often the only way to tell them apart.

I would say that in general, it is highly unusual to describe new species of primates in this age of global travel and consequent access to remote areas of the planet,” said Anne Yoder, director of the Duke Lemur Center and one of the authors of the paper. “That said, the number of described lemur species has more than tripled in the last 10 years. A large number of these new species have been mouse lemurs.”

Photo of Goodman's mouse lemurs in nest

Goodman’s mouse lemur was only discovered in 2005

Mouse lemurs under threat

Like many of Madagascar’s lemurs, the new mouse lemurs are likely to be under threat from human activities. Since the Marohita mouse lemur was first collected, much of the forest it inhabits has been cleared, and the scientists have classified the species as Endangered. The status of the Anosy mouse lemur is not yet known, but it is likely that it will also be classified as Endangered.

Further field studies have been recommended to assess the distribution and population sizes of the newly described lemurs, so that appropriate conservation measures can be put in place to protect them.

Conserving lemurs

The researchers point out the importance of identifying lemur species if they are to be protected. “Knowing exactly how many species we have is essential for determining which areas to target for conservation,” said Peter Kappeler of the German Primate Center, one of the authors of the paper.

Photo of Madame Berthe's mouse lemur resting on a branch

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

According to Yoder, “I suspect that there are even more mouse lemur species out there to be found… Mouse lemurs are morphologically cryptic, they are tiny, they are nocturnal, and they occur in remote places. It therefore makes a lot of sense that the harder we look, the more species we will find.”

As well as identifying and protecting new lemur species, it will also be important to continue working towards the conservation of all lemurs in Madagascar. Public awareness will be an important part of this.

I have found that the Malagasy people take great pride in their lemurs, as soon as they understand that Madagascar is unique in having lemurs, and also, that certain lemurs are specific only to a particular area,” said Yoder. “Also, and obviously, the government needs to participate in protecting the forests, and in providing economic alternatives to slash and burn agriculture to the Malagasy people.”

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay – 2 ‘giant’ yet tiny mouse lemurs identified in Madagascar and at Scientific American Blogs – Two new species of mouse lemur found in Madagascar.

Find out more about newly discovered species on ARKive.

View photos and videos of mouse lemurs on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jul 16

The lemurs of Madagascar are far more threatened than previously thought, according to a new assessment for the IUCN.

Photo of ring-tailed lemur with young on back

Ring-tailed lemur

The assessment, being carried out by scientists from the Primate Specialist Group, aims to decide how lemurs should be classified on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It has found that over 90% of lemur species should be placed in the Red List threatened categories.

Most threatened mammal group

The previous IUCN lemur assessment, published in 2008, classified 8 lemur species as Critically Endangered, 18 as Endangered and 14 as Vulnerable. However, the new assessment shows a worrying increase in threat levels, with 23 lemurs qualifying as Critically Endangered, 52 as Endangered and 19 as Vulnerable.

That means that 91% of all lemurs are assessed as being in one of the Red List threatened categories, which is far and away the largest proportion of any group of mammals,” said Dr Russ Mittermeier, Chairman of the Primate Specialist Group and President of Conservation International.

Photo of Madame Berthe's mouse lemur resting on a branch

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur

The scientists have also confirmed that there are more lemur species than previously thought. Detailed study and genetic testing have revealed a number of cases where lemurs have been presumed to be from the same species, but in fact are from different ones. The 103rd species, a new type of mouse lemur, was identified during this assessment but has yet to be named.

Lack of law enforcement

The main threats to lemurs come from widespread deforestation and hunting. Since a coup in Madagascar in 2009, repeated evidence of illegal logging has been found, while hunting of lemurs has emerged as a new and increasing threat. A decline in traditional taboos is also likely to be contributing to hunting of lemurs for bushmeat.

Photo of silky sifaka pair in tree

Silky sifakas

Although elections have been promised in the country, several scheduled election dates have already passed, and a lack of law enforcement is only exacerbating the threats to Madagascar’s wildlife.

Several national parks have been invaded, but of greater concern is the breakdown in control and enforcement,” said Dr Mittermeier. “There’s just no government enforcement capacity, so forests are being invaded for timber, and inevitably that brings hunting as well.”

Photo of Alaotran gentle lemur with young on back

Alaotran gentle lemur

Around 90% of Madagascar’s original forests have already been lost, and lemurs and other endemic species are becoming increasingly threatened within the remaining forest fragments.

The latest assessments of the conservation status of lemurs will be reviewed and confirmed by other experts before forming part of the IUCN’s next global Red List update.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Lemurs sliding towards extinction.

View photos and videos of lemurs on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 26

The mischievous kea won over Eleanor Sans last week, but will this week’s species be just as rebellious or slightly more reserved?

Michelle Lindley – ARKive Research Manager

Favourite species: Indri

Why? Madagascar was always on my list of places I wanted to visit and last year I was lucky enough to go. Watching Madagascar’s largest lemur, the indri, in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park was fantastic. Listening to the family groups calling to each other in the mornings was one of the best wildlife experiences. The eerie sounds they make are amazing, and watching them leap from branch to branch was unbelievable.

Favourite indri image on ARKive:

Indri image

The indri is one of the world's most threatened primates

The indri is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List. Threats to this species include habitat fragmentation due to slash-and-burn agriculture and forests being cut down for fuel and timber. The indri is also killed for food in certain areas of Madagascar.

See more photos and videos of the indri.

Dec 30
Grandidier’s baobab image

Grandidier’s baobab (Adansonia grandidieri)

Species: Grandidier’s baobab                            (Adansonia grandidieri)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The flowers of Grandidier’s baobab are said to smell like sour watermelon!

A long-lived species, the magnificent Grandidier’s baobab is only found in Madagascar. These unusual looking trees have massive cylindrical trunks and, at certain times of the year, a flat-topped crown of bluish-green leaves. The flowers of this species open after dusk and are thought to be pollinated by nocturnal mammals, such as fork-marked lemurs, which feed on the nectar from the baobab’s flowers. Grandidier’s baobab bears ripe fruit in November and December, and the kidney-shaped seeds are thought to be dispersed by water. There are a number of animal species that may have acted as seed dispersers in the past, but these have become extinct since human colonisation.

Grandidier’s baobab is heavily exploited, with the fruit and seeds being used for food and oil and the bark used to make rope. It is also threatened by habitat loss, with many trees being cleared for agriculture. Many organisations are currently working to protect the unique biodiversity of Madagascar, and plans to increase the amount of protected land will hopefully help to conserve this amazing tree.

Find out more about conservation in Madagascar: Madagascar Wildlife Conservation.

View images of Grandidier’s baobab on ARKive.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Dec 15

The decline of traditional cultural taboos in Madagascar is leading to unsustainable hunting of lemurs for bushmeat, according to a new study.

Photo of indri in rainforest canopy

The largest of the lemurs, the Endangered indri is a strictly protected species in Madagascar

Published in the journal PLoS One, the study looked at the eating habits of local people in eastern Madagascar. It found that illegal hunting of protected species was increasing, probably as a result of rapid social changes and an increased demand for meat.

Decline in traditional taboos

Taboos play an important role in traditional Malagasy culture, with lemurs in particular associated with strong taboos that have previously protected them from hunting. For example, many local people revere these unique primates, believing them to be family ancestors.

However, an influx of outside views appears to be eroding these traditional beliefs. As well as this, many people are moving into the remote areas around the country’s eastern rainforests to work at illegal gold mines, which is leading to an increase in the demand for meat.

Photo of brown lemur on a tree trunk

The brown lemur, listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN

Lack of alternatives

The study found that in the households surveyed, just over 10% of meals contained meat from wild-caught animals. Although only a tiny proportion of meat came from protected species, 95% of people admitted that they had eaten a protected species in the past.

However, the study also found that people preferred not to eat bushmeat, only hunting wild animals because of a lack of alternative meat sources.

If they want meat to eat, there is very poor availability of domestic meat in these rural areas,” said Dr Julia Jones, one of the authors of the study. “Chickens suffer terribly from disease in rainforest areas, so do not survive that well – so there is not much protein from domestic animals around.”

Photo of common tenrec which has been hunted for food

Common tenrec, another wild species hunted for food in Madagascar

Major concern for lemur conservation

Although it is illegal to hunt lemurs, species recorded as bushmeat during the study included the Critically Endangered black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata), as well as the Endangered indri (Indri indri) and diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema).

The level of hunting observed by the team is of major concern for the conservation of these and other highly threatened species.

According to Dr Jones, “Even if things are being eaten very rarely, if they are very slow-reproducing animals that can be having a huge impact. Species like the indri, for example, mature at seven to nine years and then only have one young once every two or three years.”

Providing a solution

If Madagascar’s lemurs are to survive, urgent action will be needed to reduce the demand for bushmeat. Although improved enforcement of existing wildlife laws can play a role, it will also be important to find sustainable alternatives to wild-caught meat.

Photo of two eastern lesser bamboo lemurs

Eastern lesser bamboo lemurs, another species which is strictly protected in Madagascar

One solution would be to improve the availability of meat from domestic animals, such as chickens. However, this would need to be supported by projects that help ensure poultry and livestock do not get wiped out by disease.

As Madagascar’s wildlife provides an important source of income through tourism, protecting its unique species will also be an important national issue.

If the indri and other lemurs disappear from the forests then you are going to get fewer tourists and much less international interest,” said Dr Jones. “It would be a really positive step and would be worth some investment from the government, given the importance of wildlife to Madagascar’s economy.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Eroding taboos see lemurs end up on dinner tables.

Find out more about conservation in Madagascar at Madagasikara Voakajy.

View photos and videos of lemurs on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

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