During a 2012 return trip to the forest where the Marohita mouse lemur lives, Rasoloarison discovered that much of the lemur's forest home had been cleared since his first visit in 2003. The state of the lemur's habitat prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify the new species as "endangered" even before it was formally described.
"This species is a prime example of the current state of many other lemur species," Kappeler said. Mouse lemurs have lived in Madagascar for 7 to 10 million years. But since humans arrived on the island some 2,500 years ago, logging and slash and burn agriculture have taken their toll on the forests where these tree-dwelling primates live.
Only 10 percent of Madagascar's original forests remain today, which makes lemurs the most endangered mammals in the world according to the IUCN.
"Knowing exactly how many species we have is essential for determining which areas to target for conservation," Kappeler said.
A better understanding of mouse lemur diversity could help humans too. Mouse lemurs are a closer genetic match to humans than mice and rats, the most common lab animals. At least one species -- the grey mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus) -- develops a neurological disease that is strikingly similar to human Alzheimer's, so the animals are considered important models for understanding the aging brain.
"But before we can say whether a particular genetic variant in mouse lemurs is associated with Alzheimer's, we need to know whether that variant is specific to all mouse lemurs or just select species," said Lemur Center Director Anne Yoder.
"Every new mouse lemur species that we sample in the wild will help researchers put the genetic diversity we see in grey mouse lemurs in a broader con
|Contact: Robin Ann Smith|