Did lemurs reach Madagascar on rafts?

This video is called Sifaka lemurs leaping and locomoting in Madagascar.

From mongabay.com:

Natural rafts carried Madagascar’s unique wildlife to its shores

Jeremy Hance

January 20, 2010

Imagine, forty million years ago a great tropical storm rises up on the eastern coast of Africa. Hundreds of trees are blown over and swept out to sea, but one harbors something special: inside a dry hollow rests a small lemur-like primate. Currents carry this tree and its passenger hundreds of miles until one gray morning it slides onto a faraway, unknown beach. The small mammal crawls out of its hollow and waddles, hungry and thirsty, onto the beach. Within hours, amid nearby tropical forests, it has found the sustenance it needs to survive: in a place that would one day be named Madagascar.

The world’s fourth largest island, Madagascar is home to some of world’s most unique and bizarre wildlife, including 70 species of the much-loved lemur. But how did such animals reach the island, 300 miles from the African mainland? A new study published in Nature has uncovered the dramatic answer.

The researchers, Professors Matthew Huber of Purdue and Jason Ali of the University Hong Kong, write that species rode out to Madagascar on natural rafts, such as trees, which were blown out to sea. After surviving a harrowing, yet (according to the researchers) feasible trip, the immigrants would have reached the shores of their new home and propagated.

Using a computer simulation of ocean currents during that time, the researchers argue that the long migration would have been possible. The animals that reached the island would then have evolved in complete isolation over millions of years into the odd forms that survive today, such as the long-fingered aye-aye and the world’s tiniest chameleon.

Today, currents between Africa and Madagascar flow south and southwest—not east—making such rafting trips impossible. However according to the complex computer simulation, currents flowed eastward between 20 to 60 million years ago, the pivotal period when researchers say terrestrial species arrived in Madagascar. In addition, these currents were fast enough to bring animals across the 300 miles before they would have perished from thirst. As well, Madagascar’s fauna are all small-bodied and capable of long periods of dormancy, raising the chances of the success of their journey. The scientists argue that some of the animals may have been swept out into sea during hibernation, which would increase their chances of survival, since hibernating animals require little food or water.

The other theory of how Madagascar was populated entials a landbridge connecting Africa to Madagascar. However there is no physical evidence of such a landbridge and the land bridge hypothesis should mean that Madagascar would also contain large-bodied vertebrates, such as ancestors of giraffes, hippos, elephants, lions etc. But, of course, there is no record of any such animals reaching the island.

This is not true for (dwarf) hippos.

“I was very excited to see this paper,” says Anne Yoder director of the Duke University Lemur Center and a reviewer of the study. “Dispersal [byway of rafts] has been a hypothesis about a mechanism without any actual data. This takes it out of the realm of storytelling and makes it science.”

Madagascar is second only to Australia in terms of its number of endemic, i.e. unique, species, but is thirteen times smaller than Australia.

See also here. And here.

New theory on the origin of primates: here.

New Theory of Primate Origins Sparks Controversy: here.

Mankind’s closest living relatives – the world’s apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates – are on the brink of extinction and in need of urgent conservation measures according to Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008–2010: here. Photos here.

Meet Ares, a brand new baby Coquerel’s sifaka at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo. Like all lemurs, Coquerel’s sifaka is native only to the island of Madagascar where they are endangered due to habitat destruction. With the birth of Ares, the total population of Coquerel’s sifakas in accredited zoos rises to 51: here.

Guardian: Madagascar: trees reveal lemur secrets: here.

Video: Lemur conservation in Madagascar – Primate populations in the forests of Madagascar are declining: here.

Since it was far removed from the mainstream of African evolution, the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar witnessed some strange megafauna mammals during the Pleistocene epoch. A good example was the prehistoric primate Archaeoindris, a gorilla-sized lemur (named after the modern indri of Madagascar) that behaved like an overgrown sloth, and in fact is often referred to as the “sloth lemur”: here.

New Madagascar chameleon species: here.

17 thoughts on “Did lemurs reach Madagascar on rafts?


    VICTORY! Madagascar Reinstates Rainforest Protections Following EI Led Global Public Outcry

    March 29, 2010

    From Earth’s Newsdesk, a project of Ecological Internet (EI)

    Madagascar’s transitional government last week reinstated a ban on rosewood logging and exports, following prolonged and growing pressure over illegal logging of its national parks spearheaded by Ecological Internet. As reported by Mongabay, the decree (no. 2010-141) prohibits all exports of rosewood and precious timber for two to five years. With the export ban in place, the fate of 10,000-15,000 metric tons of already illegally logged rosewood awaiting export remains uncertain. It is also unclear whether illegal loggers and traders will be prosecuted [1].

    “These issues, getting this moratorium to be permanent, and working to demonstrate community development from standing primary and restored rainforests will require continued vigilance and campaigning. Yet, two important points have been made. It is again demonstrated that it is possible to end rainforest logging. And the emergence of an empowered global movement committed to protecting and restoring old forests – and other ecologically sufficient policy necessary to achieve global ecological sustainability – is again powerfully demonstrated,” says Dr. Glen Barry, EI President.

    Over the past year, Ecological Internet conceived and led an international protest campaign seeking to emphasize the importance of keeping Madagascar’s dwindling primary forests standing and intact as the basis for national advancement [2]. Some 7674 EI network participants from 102 countries sent over 1/2 million protest emails. The result comes just days after EI blasted President Sarkozy of France, a country with deep historical ties to Madagascar, as being “guilty of dangerous hypocrisy” for condemning deforestation as a French company company continued to threaten Madagascar’s rainforests.

    Other groups such as Regenwald, Global Witness and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) that have been protesting the resumption in exports of illegally logged timber cautiously welcomed the move as well. The logging crisis began in March of 2009 when destabilization following a government coup allowed loggers to enter several of Madagascar’s world-renowned parks and illegally log rosewood and other valuable trees. Tens of thousands of hectares were logged in Madagascar’s most biodiverse rainforests, which also sparked a rise in bushmeat trafficking of lemurs. Madagascar’s transitional government then sanctioned timber exports at the end of 2009 despite a long-standing ban on rosewood logging.

    [1] Madagascar bans rainforest timber exports following global outcry, http://news.mongabay.com/2010/0325-madagascar_rosewood_ban.html
    More Information can be found at Mongabay which has broken and continues to cover the story.

    [2] Action Alert: Protest Madagascar’s Legalization of Rosewood Log Export from National Parks http://www.rainforestportal.org/shared/alerts/send.aspx?id=madagascar_landgrab



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