The first Lavasoa dwarf lemur was discovered in 2001, and initially assigned to an already known species, Cheirogaleus crossleyi.
"It is only now that we were able to determine that some of the animals examined represent a previously unknown species," said Dr. Andreas Hapke of the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU).
Due to its long isolation from other land masses, there are many plant and animal species that exist only in Madagascar. The lemur subgroup of primates are found almost exclusively on Madagascar.
The lemur population has been studied extensively in recent decades, with many new species identified. With new genetic analyses from wild population tissue samples, scientists at JGU have confirmed the new species, published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.
"The new data from southern Madagascar enabled us to significantly enlarge existing datasets," explained Dana Thiele of the JGU Institute of Anthropology.
"We then used extensive data analyses to examine the genetic diversity in two closely related lemur genera, the mouse lemurs (Microcebus) and the dwarf lemurs (Cheirogaleus)," Thiele said. "Species diversity of dwarf lemurs is greater than previously thought."
The nocturnal, canopy-dwelling Lavasoa dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus lavasoensis) inhabits just three isolated forest fragments in the extreme south of Madagascar. The exact population size is not known, but researchers estimate there are less than 50 individuals remaining, making the Lavasoa highly endangered.