Hidden biodiversity in cryptic species: lessons from Madagascar's mouse lemurs
17/05/2012 - Room Courtyard Room at 11:00 - External Seminar
(Professor Department of Biology & BAA Duke University)
Global loss of biodiversity is one of the greatest threats facing the earth. But in order to measure loss, we must first determine existing levels of biological diversity. Virtually all measures of biodiversity rely at least to some degree upon counting the number of species within communities and ecosystems, yet quantifying species numbers is a complicated enterprise, under the best of circumstances. The process is made all the more complicated by the continuing disagreement among biologists as to what constitutes a species in the first place. Mouse lemurs are emblematic of these difficulties. These small-bodied nocturnal primates are endemic to Madagascar, an island nation that is universally acknowledged to be one of the world’s hottest biodiversity hotspots, with habitats disappearing at breathtaking rates. Over the past 20 years, mouse lemur taxonomy has been inflated from only two recognized species to more than sixteen. My talk will focus on mouse lemurs as a ca
se study in the complexities of species determination within a group of mammals for which morphological variation is extremely subtle, thus qualifying them as “cryptic”, The talk will examine the question of species determination not from the perspective of the mammalogist, but from the perspective of the organisms themselves. It matters not whether we recognize species boundaries among mouse lemurs, but whether --- and how --- mouse lemurs themselves make these discriminations.