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If a small group of lemurs went from Africa to Madagascar, what happened to the lemurs left behind?

Is there evidence to show what happened to those left behind in Africa?

Madagascan lemurs

27 October 2023

Yes – good question! Given its proximity to Madagascar, the adjacent African landmass is presently viewed as the most likely source for ancestral lemurs (lemurs accidentally arriving on the island having floated over on vegetation mats). The short answer is that African lemurs became extinct when they couldn’t compete with other primates for food (in Madagascar, there was no competition as other primates did not make it to the island). This theory is based on DNA analysis of lemurs and their closest relatives suggesting that lemurs made their way to Madagascar between 40-52 million years ago.

Recent research from Nature Communications has challenged the view that lemurs descended from a single colony and presented evidence based on the fossil record in which two lemur lineages dispersed independently during the later Cenozoic era (from 66 million years ago). This study looked at morphological evidence of the teeth of early primate lemur ancestors. 

The key to the mystery of when lemurs moved is linked to when they were evolving – and because this all happened relatively recently (in geological time), evidence in the fossil record is limited (for example, lemur remains in Madagascar are sub-fossils rather than fossils because of their young age and the relatively few African fossils are of probable lemur ancestors) so looking for solid evidence of what the remaining lemurs were doing in Africa is difficult! 

Featured Image Credit: Pixnio