New Madagascar dwarf lemur discovery


Cheirogaleus lavasoensis, from southern Madagascar. Photo credit: Andreas Hapke

From Wildlife Extra:

New species of critically endangered Dwarf lemur recognised on Madagascar

First discovered in 2001, but only now recognised as a distinct species, the Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur population probably consists of fewer than 50 animals

July 2013. The island of Madagascar harbours a unique biodiversity that evolved due to its long-lasting isolation from other land masses, and there are high numbers of endemic plant and animal species.

Lemurs

Lemurs are found almost exclusively on Madagascar, the only exceptions are two species that also live on the Comoros Islands, where they probably have been introduced by humans. Thanks to extensive field research over the past decades, numerous previously unknown lemur species have been discovered. Dwarf lemurs in turn received relatively little attention to date and the diversity within this genus is still not well known.

Researchers from the universities of Mainz and Antananarivo have investigated lemur populations in southern Madagascar. Based on fieldwork and laboratory analyses, they now identified a previously unknown species of dwarf lemur.

“Together with Malagasy scientists, we have been studying the diversity of lemurs for several years now,” said Dr. Andreas Hapke of the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). “It is only now that we were able to determine that some of the animals examined represent a previously unknown species.”

Lives in just 3 forest fragments, probably less than 50 still alive

The newly described Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur (Cheirogaleus lavasoensis) inhabits three isolated forest fragments in the extreme south of Madagascar. According to current knowledge, it does not occur outside this area. The exact population size is unknown. Preliminary estimates indicate that there are less than 50 individuals remaining. The Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur is thus rare and extremely endangered.

Very difficult to study

The lifestyle of dwarf lemurs makes them extremely difficult to study as these nocturnal forest dwellers often remain in the upper parts of the forest canopy. Moreover, they hibernate for several months during the austral winter. Their main period of activity is the rainy season, when many of the forests they inhabit are virtually inaccessible to scientists. Nevertheless, the researchers were able to carefully capture a total of 51 dwarf lemurs in live traps at nine locations for this study and to take minute tissue samples before releasing the animals back into their natural habitat.

Mouse and dwarf lemurs

The tissue samples were subjected to molecular-genetic analyses at the Institute of Anthropology at Mainz University. The data generated through the process were then compared with data already published by other research groups. “The new data from southern Madagascar enabled us to significantly enlarge existing datasets,” explained Dana Thiele of the JGU Institute of Anthropology. “We then used extensive data analyses to examine the genetic diversity in two closely related lemur genera, the mouse lemurs (Microcebus) and the dwarf lemurs (Cheirogaleus). The comparison showed that the species diversity of dwarf lemurs is greater than previously thought.”

Andreas Hapke and Refaly Ernest, working as a local field assistant for the project, had discovered the first individuals of the Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur during a field study in Madagascar in 2001. Few genetic data from other parts of the island were available for comparison at that time. The animals were thus initially assigned to an already known species, Cheirogaleus crossleyi. Only now it was possible to ascertain that the Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur is a distinct species.

The findings of the research project have recently been published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

See also here.

Endangered Species No. 72 – The Red-ruffed Lemur: here.

Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 96 – The Black and White Ruffed Lemur: here.

Protect Tanzanian primates


This video is called Primate Questions of Conservation, Part 1/4.

From Wildlife Extra:

Tanzania primates should be protected by ‘Priority Primate Areas’

First full inventory of primates for Tanzania confirms wealth of rare species and ranks species and sites for conservation attention

July 2013. A five-year study by the Wildlife Conservation Society gives new hope to some of the world’s most endangered primates by establishing a roadmap to protect all 27 species in Tanzania – the most primate-diverse country in mainland Africa.

The study combines Tanzania’s first-ever inventory of all primate species and their habitats with IUCN Red List criteria and other factors such as threats and rarity, ranking all 27 species from most vulnerable to least vulnerable. The authors then identify a network of “Priority Primate Areas” for conservation.

9 endemic species

A third of Tanzania’s primate species are found nowhere else on earth. The study found that the most vulnerable was the kipunji, first discovered by WCS in 2003 on Mt Rungwe and described by WCS as an entirely new genus in 2006. Another extremely vulnerable species is the Zanzibar red colobus, a species whose population is currently being counted by WCS. More common species include the baboons, black and white colobus monkeys and vervets.

60 important primate areas

The study assigned a score to pinpoint the most important areas for protection. The analysis revealed more than 60 important primate areas including national parks, game reserves, forest reserves, conservation areas, and currently unprotected landscapes. However, the adequate protection of just nine sites, including six national parks (Kilimanjaro, Kitulo, Mahale, Saadani, Udzungwa and Jozani-Chwaka Bay), one nature reserve (Kilombero) and two forest reserves (Minziro and Mgambo), totalling 8,679 square kilometres (3,350 square miles), would protect all 27 of Tanzania’s primate species.

Priority Primate Areas

The authors say that the Priority Primate Areas could be applied in other nations rich in wildlife but facing burgeoning pressures from population growth. This could be similar to “Important Bird Areas” a global effort to identify and conserve places that are vital to birds and other biodiversity. In fact, Tanzania’s Priority Primate Areas were also often rich in bird life underscoring their value to conservation in general.

“We believe Priority Primate Areas can be a valuable conservation tool worldwide, similar to the successful Important Bird Area concept,” said the study’s lead author, Tim Davenport of WCS. “For a developing nation of such global conservation importance like Tanzania, priority setting is an essential tool in managing wildlife.”

Tanzania is widely regarded as the most important country in mainland Africa for biological diversity and unique species, and contains the continent’s highest mountain, deepest lakes and large parts of two globally significant biodiversity hotspots, the Eastern Afromontane and the Albertine Rift.

Highest rate of forest loss

However, Tanzania has the second highest rate of forest loss in sub-Saharan Africa, despite considerable conservation investment and a large amount of land nominally under protection.

“This study has global implications as many nations grapple with reconciling their development needs with biological conservation and the needs of wildlife,” said James Deutsch, WCS Executive Director for Africa Programs. “Science-based priority setting tools like this one are the best chance for developing nations to minimize biodiversity loss.”

The paper appears in the July 17 issue of the journal Oryx. Authors are Tim Davenport of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Katarzyna Nowak of the Udzungwa Elephant Project, and Andrew Perkin of the Tanzania Forest Conservation Group.

January 2014: The Humane Society International/UK (HIS/UK)has called for the UK Parliament to ban the keeping of primates as pets. Recent estimates suggest that upwards of 9,000 primates may be held as pets in the UK, but the true figure could be far higher as records are incomplete: here.

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Neanderthal language, still today?


This video is called Neanderthal – BBC Documentary.

From World Science:

Neanderthals may have talked—even contributed to our languages, scholars claim

July 10, 2013

Courtesy of the Max Planck In­sti­tute for Psy­cho­lin­guis­tics and World Science staff

Ne­an­der­thal peo­ple may have pos­sessed lan­guage, and their words might even have con­tri­but­ed to the lan­guages of our spe­cies, two sci­en­tists pro­pose.

Though the sec­ond idea has yet to be tested, they add, ev­i­dence al­ready ex­ists for the first. Both pro­pos­als fol­low recent find­ings that Nean­der­thals interbred with an­cestors of mod­ern hu­mans.

Da­ta is quickly ac­cu­mu­lating that seems to in­di­cate that Ne­an­der­thals, close cousins to mod­ern peo­ple, were much more like us than im­ag­ined even a dec­ade ago, say re­search­ers Dan Dediu and Ste­phen C. Levin­son of the Max Planck In­sti­tute for Psy­cho­lin­guis­tics in Nij­me­gen, Neth­er­lands.

They ar­gue that mod­ern lan­guage and speech can be traced back to the last com­mon an­ces­tor we shared with the Ne­an­der­thals, roughly half a mil­lion years ago. A pa­per de­tail­ing their work ap­peared in the July 5 on­line is­sue of the jour­nal Fron­tiers in Lan­guage Sci­ences.

The Ne­an­der­thals have fas­ci­nat­ed schol­ars and the pub­lic alike ev­er since their dis­cov­ery al­most 200 years ago. In­i­tially thought to be sub­hu­man brutes in­ca­pa­ble of much be­yond prim­i­tive grunts, they were a suc­cess­ful form of hu­man­ity in­hab­it­ing vast swathes of west­ern Eur­a­sia for sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand years, in­clud­ing dur­ing harsh gla­cial per­iods.

It’s well es­tab­lished that they were our clos­est cousins, shar­ing a com­mon an­ces­tor with us around half a mil­lion years ago—probably the spe­cies Ho­mo hei­del­ber­gen­sis, Dediu and Levin­son say. But it has been un­clear what their men­tal ca­pa­ci­ties were, or why mod­ern hu­mans re­placed them—an es­ti­mat­ed 28,000 years ago—after thou­sands of years of co­hab­ita­t­ion.

Due to new palaeoan­thro­po­log­i­cal and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal find­ings and re­assess­ments of old­er da­ta, but es­pe­cially to the avail­abil­ity of an­cient DNA, we’ve started to real­ize that their fate was in­ter­twined with ours, the re­search­ers not­ed. And far from be­ing slow brutes, they added, their men­tal ca­pa­ci­ties and cul­ture were com­pa­ra­ble to ours.

Dediu and Levin­son re­view all these strands of lit­er­a­ture and ar­gue that es­sen­tially mod­ern lan­guage and speech are an an­cient fea­ture of our line­age dat­ing back at least to the most re­cent an­ces­tor we shared with the Ne­an­der­thals and the Deniso­vans, an­oth­er form of hu­man­ity known mostly from DNA.

Their in­ter­preta­t­ion of the am­big­u­ous, scant ev­i­dence con­tra­dicts the sce­nar­i­o usu­ally as­sumed by most lan­guage sci­en­tists, that of a sud­den and re­cent emer­gence of mod­ern­ity—pre­sumably due to one or very few muta­t­ions. In­stead, the re­search­ers fa­vor a sce­nar­i­o of grad­u­al ac­cu­mula­t­ion of biolog­i­cal and cul­tur­al in­nova­t­ions.

The new pic­ture would push back the ori­gins of mod­ern lan­guage over ten­fold, from the often-cited 50 or so thou­sand years, to around a mil­lion years ago. That’s some­where be­tween the ori­gins of our ge­nus, Ho­mo, some 1.8 mil­lion years ago, and the emer­gence of Ho­mo hei­del­ber­gen­sis. A ge­nus is a biolog­i­cal clas­sifica­t­ion that em­braces a num­ber of spe­cies.

Giv­en that ar­chae­o­log­i­cal and ge­net­ic da­ta shows mod­ern hu­mans spread­ing from Af­ri­ca mixed with Ne­an­der­thals and Deniso­vans, then just as we car­ry around some of their genes, our lan­guages may pre­serve traces of theirs, the sci­en­tists added. The idea, they ar­gued, is test­a­ble by com­par­ing the struc­tur­al prop­er­ties of Af­ri­can and non-Af­ri­can lan­guages, and by com­put­er sim­ula­t­ions of lan­guage spread.

New finds demonstrate: Neandertals were the first in Europe to make standardized and specialized bone tools – which are still in use today: here.

Resourceful Neanderthals in France – Popular Archaeology: here.

Neanderthal and Denisovan retroviruses in modern humans: here.

Did Mexicans Inherit Diabetes Risk from Neanderthals? Here.

New Madagascan lemur research


The Sahamalaza sportive lemur (Lepilemur sahamalazensis) roosts during the day in rather open situations such as tree holes. (Credit: Image copyright Melanie Seiler)

From ScienceDaily:

Solitary Lemurs Avoid Danger With a Little Help from the Neighbors

July 5, 2013 — An endangered species of Madagascan lemur uses the alarm calls of birds and other lemurs to warn it of the presence of predators, a new study by researchers from the University of Bristol and Bristol Zoo with the University of Torino has found. This is the first time this phenomenon has been observed in a solitary and nocturnal lemur species.

Very little is known about the Sahamalaza sportive lemur (Lepilemur sahamalazensis), other than the fact it roosts during the day in rather open situations, such as tree holes, and therefore risks falling victim to predators from both the air and the ground.

Sportive lemurs are not kept in any zoo. Prior to this research virtually nothing was known about this particular species despite the fact that it has been classified as Critically Endangered, the top threat category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature‘s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, at a red-listing workshop in Madagascar in July 2012. …

The lemurs of Sahamalaza National Park in northwest Madagascar are threatened by deforestation, hunting and forest fragmentation. Bristol Zoo is working to preserve the small bits of forest, roughly 200 hectares on the Sahamalaza Peninsula, that they have left which is vitally important for the continued survival of this and other lemur species.

Ape, monkey evolution discoveries in Tanzania


Artist’s impression of the newly discovered Rukwapithecus, front, and Nsungwepithecus, right (Mauricio Anton)

From Big News Network (ANI):

Oldest evidence of split between Old World monkeys and apes uncovered

Thursday 16th May, 2013

Discovery of two fossils from the East African Rift has provided new information about the evolution of primates, according to a study.

The team’s findings document the oldest fossils of two major groups of primates: the group that today includes apes and humans (hominoids), and the group that includes Old World monkeys such as baboons and macaques (cercopithecoids).

Geological analyses of the study site indicate that the finds are 25 million years old, significantly older than fossils previously documented for either of the two groups.

Both primates are new to science, and were collected from a single fossil site in the Rukwa Rift Basin of Tanzania.

Rukwapithecus fleaglei is an early hominoid represented by a mandible preserving several teeth. Nsungwepithecus gunnelli is an early cercopithecoid represented by a tooth and jaw fragment.

The primates lived during the Oligocene epoch, which lasted from 34 to 23 million years ago. For the first time, the study documents that the two lineages were already evolving separately during this geological period.

“The late Oligocene is among the least sampled intervals in primate evolutionary history, and the Rukwa field area provides a first glimpse of the animals that were alive at that time from Africa south of the equator,” said Nancy Stevens, an associate professor of paleontology in Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine who leads the paleontological team.

Prior to these finds, the oldest fossil representatives of the hominoid and cercopithecoid lineages were recorded from the early Miocene, at sites dating millions of years younger.

The new discoveries are particularly important for helping to reconcile a long-standing disagreement between divergence time estimates derived from analyses of DNA sequences from living primates and those suggested by the primate fossil record, Stevens said.

Studies of clock-like mutations in primate DNA have indicated that the split between apes and Old World monkeys occurred between 30 million and 25 million years ago.

“Fossils from the Rukwa Rift Basin in southwestern Tanzania provide the first real test of the hypothesis that these groups diverged so early, by revealing a novel glimpse into this late Oligocene terrestrial ecosystem,” Stevens said.

The new fossils are the first primate discoveries from this precise location within the Rukwa deposits, and two of only a handful of known primate species from the entire late Oligocene, globally.

The scientists scanned the specimens in the Ohio University’s MicroCT scanner, allowing them to create detailed 3-dimensional reconstructions of the ancient specimens that were used for comparisons with other fossils.

“This is another great example that underscores how modern imaging and computational approaches allow us to address more refined questions about vertebrate evolutionary history,” said Patrick O’Connor, co-author and professor of anatomy in Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The study was published online in Nature this week led by Ohio University scientists.

See also here. And here. And here.

In Tanzania, Nature Provides Unseen Value for Farmers: here.

Lemur babies born


This is a video about ring-tailed lemurs, from the BBC’s “Life” documentary series.

Amersfoort zoo in the Netherlands reports that young ring-tailed lemurs were born there recently.

Also, two young donkeys were born.

And the vultures have eggs in their nests.

From prehistoric hominids to modern humans, video


The California Academy of Sciences in the USA writes about this video:

March 29, 2013

One of the oldest fossils ever discovered dated at 3.2 million years old, “Lucy” (Australopithecus afarensis) provided scientists evidence of bipedal, upright walking by human ancestors. In this animation, see what similarities Lucy shares with modern humans.

Trace the milestones of our species’ fascinating history in a dramatic addition to Tusher African Hall.

For more information visit http://www.calacademy.org/human-odyssey/.

South African hominid discoveries: here.

New mouse lemur species discoveries in Madagascar


A captive Microcebus murinus mouse lemur, which occurs in the same area as the newly discovered Anosy mouse lemur. M. murinus considered an alternative model system to mice and rats in biomedical research on human disease and aging. Credit: David Haring of the Duke Lemur Center

From Wildlife Extra:

2 new species of mouse lemur identified in Madagascar

DNA says lemur lookalikes are 2 new species

March 2013. Scientists have identified two new species of mouse lemur, the saucer-eyed, teacup-sized primates native to the African island of Madagascar.

20 Mouse lemurs recognised

The new study brings the number of recognized mouse lemur species to 20, making them the most diverse group of lemurs known. But because these shy, nocturnal primates look so much alike, it’s only possible to tell them apart with genetic sequencing.

Weigh just 2.5 – 3 ounces

The new mouse lemurs weigh 2.5 to 3 ounces (about 65 to 85 grams) and have grey-brown fur. “You can’t really tell them apart just looking at them through binoculars in the rainforest,” said senior author Peter Kappeler of the German Primate Center in Goettingen, who earned his PhD at Duke in 1992.

Close neighbours

The researchers named one of the new species the Anosy mouse lemur, or Microcebus tanosi. Anosy mouse lemurs are close neighbours with grey mouse lemurs and grey-brown mouse lemurs, but the genetic data indicate they don’t interbreed.

The researchers named the other new species the Marohita mouse lemur, or Microcebus marohita, after the forest where it was found. In Malagasy, the word “marohita” means “many views.”

First caught in 2003 – 2007

The two new species were first captured by co-author Rodin Rasoloarison of the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar during trips to the eastern part of the country in 2003 and 2007. Rasoloarison weighed and measured them and took tiny skin samples for genetic analysis in the lab.

Co-authors Anne Yoder and Dave Weisrock, both at Duke University at the time, analysed two mitochondrial and four nuclear DNA genes to figure out where the animals fit into the lemur family tree. Their genetic analyses were published in 2010, but this is the first time the species have been formally named and described.

Funded by a grant from the German Research Foundation, the study is published in the March 26 online issue of the International Journal of Primatology.

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 context,” she said.

CITATION: Rasoloarison, R., et al. (2013). “Two new species of mouse lemurs (Cheirogaleidae: Microcebus) from eastern Madagascar.” International Journal of Primatology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10764-013-9672-1

See also here.