Distribution and Morphological Variation of Microcebus spp. Along an Environmental Gradient in Southeastern Madagascar

  • S. Jacques Rakotondranary
  • Andreas Hapke
  • Jörg U. Ganzhorn


The lemurs of Madagascar are known for their extraordinary levels of speciation. However, the mechanisms and environmental conditions that led to this diversity remain obscure. We used 3 species of Microcebus (M. griseorufus, M. murinus, M. rufus) occurring along an environmental gradient as a model to investigate 1) how the different species are distributed in relation to variation in environmental conditions and ecotones; 2) whether or not the morphology of a given species varies in relation to environmental conditions; and 3) whether or not there is evidence for morphological character displacement to reduce congeneric competition in sympatry vs. allopatry. The 3 species of Microcebus show clear associations with specific habitat types. Distributions overlap at ecotones. Nevertheless, the ecotone between dry spiny and gallery forest represents a species boundary between Microcebus griseorufus and M. murinus while the ecotone between dry spiny forest and evergreen humid forest represents the species boundary between M. murinus and M. rufus. Different ambient conditions are not reflected in changes in body measurements of Microcebus murinus living in different vegetation formations. There is no indication for character displacement in sympatry vs. allopatry. Thus, differences in body mass or other morphological characteristics do not contribute to species separation between Microcebus griseorufus and M. murinus. The results confirm the importance of ecotones as species boundaries as a condition postulated for the radiation of lemur and other species on Madagascar. They also demonstrate different habitat affinities of seemingly very similar lemur species and thus illustrate our very limited understanding of the actual selection pressures, adaptations of lemurs to their environments, and their possible response to interspecific competition.


Competition Evolution Lemurs Niche Primates Southeastern Madagascar 



We conducted this study under the Accord de Collaboration between Madagascar National Parks (MNP, formerly ANGAP), the University of Antananarivo, and the University of Hamburg. We thank Chantal Andrianarivo, Jocelyn Rakotomalala, Domoina Rakotomalala of MNP, the late Olga Ramilijaona, Daniel Rakotondravony, and Jean-Baptiste Ramanamanjato for their collaboration and support. We acknowledge the authorization for this study by the Ministère de l’Environement, des Eaux et Forêts et du Tourisme, MNP, and the University of Antananarivo. Ernest Refaly, Kai Schütte, Ole Theisinger, Susanne Kobbe, Roberto Rakoto, Fiadana Ijo, Tahiana Andriaharimalala, Miha Mahatanty, Mosa Vonjoloke, Soja Fahamaro, Maharavo, Mandiavato, and Bertin Tsimihanta provided important help in the field. Joanna Setchell and 3 reviewers provided excellent comments on the manuscript. The study was financed by DFG (Ga 342/14) and DAAD.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Jacques Rakotondranary
    • 1
  • Andreas Hapke
    • 2
  • Jörg U. Ganzhorn
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Animal Ecology and ConservationUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Johannes-Gutenberg-Universitaet Mainz, Institut für AnthropologieMainzGermany

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