No endemic Madagascar animal with body mass >10 kg survived a relatively recent wave of extinction on the island. From morphological and isotopic analyses of skeletal “subfossil” remains we can reconstruct some of the biology and behavioral ecology of giant lemurs (primates; up to ∼160 kg) and other extraordinary Malagasy megafauna that survived into the past millennium. Yet, much about the evolutionary biology of these now-extinct species remains unknown, along with persistent phylogenetic uncertainty in some cases. Thankfully, despite the challenges of DNA preservation in tropical and subtropical environments, technical advances have enabled the recovery of ancient DNA from some Malagasy subfossil specimens. Here, we present a nuclear genome sequence (∼2× coverage) for one of the largest extinct lemurs, the koala lemur Megaladapis edwardsi (∼85 kg). To support the testing of key phylogenetic and evolutionary hypotheses, we also generated high-coverage nuclear genomes for two extant lemurs, Eulemur rufifrons and Lepilemur mustelinus, and we aligned these sequences with previously published genomes for three other extant lemurs and 47 nonlemur vertebrates. Our phylogenetic results confirm that Megaladapis is most closely related to the extant Lemuridae (typified in our analysis by E. rufifrons) to the exclusion of L. mustelinus, which contradicts morphology-based phylogenies. Our evolutionary analyses identified significant convergent evolution between M. edwardsi and an extant folivore (a colobine monkey) and an herbivore (horse) in genes encoding proteins that function in plant toxin biodegradation and nutrient absorption. These results suggest that koala lemurs were highly adapted to a leaf-based diet, which may also explain their convergent craniodental morphology with the small-bodied folivore Lepilemur.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|State||Published - Jun 29 2021|
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