Due to its remarkable species diversity and micro-endemism, Madagascar has recently been suggested to serve as a biogeographic model region. However, hypothesis-based tests of various diversification mechanisms that have been proposed for the evolution of the island’s micro-endemic lineages are still limited. Here, we test the fit of several diversification hypotheses with new data on the broadly distributed genus Eulemur using coalescent-based phylogeographic analyses.
Time-calibrated species tree analyses and population genetic clustering resolved the previously polytomic species relationships among eulemurs. The most recent common ancestor of eulemurs was estimated to have lived about 4.45 million years ago (mya). Divergence date estimates furthermore suggested a very recent diversification among the members of the “brown lemur complex”, i.e. former subspecies of E. fulvus, during the Pleistocene (0.33-1.43 mya). Phylogeographic model comparisons of past migration rates showed significant levels of gene flow between lineages of neighboring river catchments as well as between eastern and western populations of the redfronted lemur ( E. rufifrons).
Together, our results are concordant with the centers of endemism hypothesis (Wilmé et al. 2006, Science 312:1063–1065), highlight the importance of river catchments for the evolution of Madagascar’s micro-endemic biota, and they underline the usefulness of testing diversification mechanisms using coalescent-based phylogeographic methods.