Species-Level Diversity Among Malagasy Lemurs

  • Ian TattersallEmail author
Part of the Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects book series (DIPR)


The number of Malagasy lemur species recognized has skyrocketed over the past quarter-century, from 22 in 1982 to almost 100 today. This is largely a result of the wholesale application of phylogenetic species concepts and the elimination of subspecies from the lemur fauna. I argue that “silver-bullet” approaches to species recognition ignore real biological complexity, and that species are best recognized through weighing all available evidence including that furnished by morphology, molecules, behavior, communication, demography, and distributions. Only about 50 lemur species are fully justified by current evidence, although this is certainly a conservative estimate.


Mouse Lemur Species Recognition Brown Lemur Lemur Species Phylogenetic Species Concept 
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Le nombre d’espèces de Lémuriens reconnus à Madagascar a explosé au cours du dernier quart de siècle, passant de 22 en 1982 à presque 100 aujourd’hui. Ceci découle de l’application sans limite du concept “d’espèce phylogénétique”, et de l’élimination de toutes les sous-espèces de lémuriens. Je conteste cette approche réductrice de l’espèce, qui ignore la complexité du vivant, et j’affirme que les espèces sont mieux reconnues si tous les caractères identifiés sont pris en compte, combinant les approches morphologiques, moléculaires, comportementales (incluant les systèmes de communication), démographiques et géographiques. Une cinquantaine d’espèces de lémuriens seulement apparaît clairement justifiée, bien que cette estimation soit presque certainement conservatrice.



My appreciation to Judith Masters for her energy and initiative in maintaining the important tradition of reviewing the state of lemur biology each decade and for her temperate commentary on this piece. Thanks also to Stephen Nash for (among many other things) keeping score on the roster of lemur species.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of AnthropologyAmerican Museum of Natural HistoryNew YorkUSA

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