Genetic and morphological diversity of mouse lemurs (Microcebus spp.) in northern Madagascar : The discovery of a putative new species?
Tropical forests harbor extremely high levels of biological diversity and are quickly disappearing. Despite the increasingly recognized high rate of habitat loss, it is expected that new species will be discovered as more effort is put to document tropical biodiversity. Exploring under-studied regions is particularly urgent if we consider the rapid changes in habitat due to anthropogenic activities. Madagascar is known for its extraordinary biological diversity and endemicity. It is also threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation. It holds more than 100 endemic primate species (lemurs). Among these, Microcebus (mouse lemurs) is one of the more diverse genera. We sampled mouse lemurs from several sites across northern Madagascar, including forests never sampled before. We obtained morphological data from 99 Microcebus individuals; we extracted DNA from tissue samples of 42 individuals and amplified two mitochondrial loci (cytb and cox2) commonly used for species identification. Our findings update the distribution of three species (Microcebus tavaratra, Microcebus arnholdi, and Microcebus mamiratra), including a major increase in the distribution area of M. arnholdi. We also report the discovery of a new Microcebus lineage genetically related to M. arnholdi. Several complementary approaches suggest that the newly identified Microcebus lineage might correspond to a new putative species, to be confirmed or rejected with additional data. In addition, morphological analyses showed (a) clear phenotypic differences between M. tavaratra and M. arnholdi, but no clear differences between the new Microcebus lineage and the sister species M. arnholdi; and (b) a significant correlation between climatic variables and morphology, suggesting a possible relationship between species identity, morphology, and environment. By integrating morphological, climatic, genetic, and spatial data of two northern Microcebus species, we show that the spatial distribution of forest-dwelling species may be used as a proxy to reconstruct the past spatial changes in forest cover and vegetation type.