Genome study to aid Madagascar lemurs

March 25, 2013 at 5:38 PM

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa., March 25 (UPI) -- Scientists who've sequenced the genome of a type of endangered lemur living in Madagascar say it will help guide conservation efforts for the species.

The aye-aye, a lemur found only on the island country in the Indian Ocean, recently was reclassified as "endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a release from Penn State University reported Monday.

George H. Perry, a Penn State anthropology and biology professor, said the loss and fragmentation of natural forest habitats in Madagascar has raised concerns about the long-term viability of aye-ayes as a species.

"The aye-aye is one of the world's most unusual and fascinating animals," he said. "Aye-ayes use continuously growing incisors to gnaw through the bark of dead trees and then a long, thin, and flexible middle finger to extract insect larvae, filling the ecological niche of a woodpecker.

Edward Louis, director of Conservation Genetics at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, along with colleagues from Penn State and the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership, worked to locate aye-ayes and collect DNA samples from three separate regions of Madagascar, in order to measure the biodiversity of aye-aye populations.

"We were looking to make use of new genomic-sequencing technologies to characterize patterns of genetic diversity among some of the surviving aye-aye populations, with an eye towards the prioritization of conservation efforts."

"Aye-ayes are nocturnal, solitary, and have very low population densities, making them difficult to study and sample in the wild," Louis said.

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