New York: Scientists have discovered three new species of mouse lemurs – the smallest primates in the world – in Madagascar.
Twenty years ago, there were only two species of mouse lemurs. Today, including the newly-discovered species Microcebus ganzhorni, Microcebus manitatra and Microcebus boraha, mouse lemurs comprise 24 species, which are only found in the highly biodiverse island of Madagascar.
“We didn’t go into this work looking for a new species, but there was no real way to get around the fact that there are three new species here to describe,” said lead study author Scott Hotaling from University of Kentucky in the US.
The findings were published in the journal Molecular Ecology.
“From a conservation perspective, knowing what’s there is important,” Hotaling said.
“These animals are facing diminishing habitats and tremendous pressures,” Hotaling pointed out.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, 94 percent of lemurs are threatened with extinction.
Of the 101 surviving lemur species, 22 are critically endangered, 48 are endangered and 20 are vulnerable – making them one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates on Earth.
But almost as important as the species discovered is how they were discovered — using recently developed methods that allowed researchers to statistically model the evolutionary process on University of Kentucky’s supercomputer.
The researchers believed that this objective approach to assessing genetic differences between individuals could have significant potential for clarifying diversity in other species.