The Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur is a new species that has led researchers to re-evaluate the potential diversity found within the dwarf lemur family. The Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur is considered extremely endangered with researchers estimating 50 individuals living in a small region of Madagascar.

Researchers from the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, in Germany, and the University of Antananarivo, in Madagascar, used DNA sequencing to discover the new dwarf lemur species. The research was published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

According to Andreas Hapke, the two teams have been working for several years to research the diversity of dwarf lemur species and the Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur may be the first of several new species announced. “It is only now that we were able to determine that some of the animals examined represent a previously unknown species,” said Hapke.

The Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur, Cheirogaleus lavasoensi, is native to Madagascar and was found in only three different forest areas in the southern part of the island. Researchers have been unable to determine the exact size of the population but estimates there may only be 50 in existence. There are several factors that make dwarf lemurs difficult to study. Dwarf lemurs are nocturnal and hibernate for several months. For researchers, the habitats of dwarf lemurs are incredibly difficult to reach. In the new study, the scientists were able to capture 51 different dwarf lemurs in nine locations, collecting a tissue sample and releasing the animals back into the wild.

The DNA data collected by researchers was compared to previous research on dwarf lemurs. Based on the new data, the researchers believe there may be more dwarf lemur species than previously believed. “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). The comparison showed that the species diversity of dwarf lemurs is greater than previously thought,” said Dana Thiele, from the JGU Institute of Anthropology.

The Lavasoa Dwarf Lemur was previously classified as a Crossley’s Dwarf Lemur, Cheirogaleus crossleyi, prior to the DNA analysis. Further research could reclassify previously discovered dwarf lemurs into new species.