Comparative and population genomic studies of Madagascar's extinct subfossil lemurs

Project: Research project

Project Details


Humans arrived to the island of Madagascar only approximately 2,300 years ago. Since that time, humans have affected the island's environment and its unique biodiversity through deforestation and hunting practices. As a result, many Malagasy animal species are at risk for extinction. For example, over 70% of the island's 100 species of lemurs, the primates of Madagascar, are considered Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. In addition, from unmineralized skeletal remains, we know of at least 17 now-extinct 'subfossil' lemur species, some of which lived as recently as 500 years ago, or less. All of the extinct species were larger than every living lemur species, and some substantially so, up to the size of a male gorilla. This study aims to use ancient DNA methods and massively parallel sequencing technology for genetic studies of the extinct subfossil lemur species, and to make genetic comparisons between the extinct and living lemur species. These comparisons are important for understanding the history of the extinct species themselves, but also for broadening our understanding of the history of human-environment interactions on Madagascar and for identifying primary lemur extinction risk factors - knowledge which may influence the prioritization of conservation efforts for the still surviving lemur species. Researchers will sample bone and teeth from subfossil lemur skeletons to extract DNA and sequence complete mitochondrial genomes from single individuals of 14 of the 17 extinct subfossil lemur species, as well as from population samples of seven of these species. For comparative purposes, the researchers also will sequence complete mitochondrial genomes from populations of 10 living lemur species.

The proposed research will involve international collaborations between US academic institutions and the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar. This work will provide extensive training for both US and Malagasy graduate students, and will help build the capacity for genomics data analysis in Madagascar. In addition to the primary scientific publications resulting from this work, the conservation implications of the study will be summarized in an article submitted to the open access journal Madagascar Conservation & Development, facilitating broad dissemination of the conservation significance of the research results.

Effective start/end date8/1/137/31/17


  • National Science Foundation: $292,832.00


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