Mouse lemurs (Microcebus spp.) are the world’s smallest primates and endemic to Madagascar. Several recent taxonomic revisions resulted in an extraordinary increase of recognized species. What still was considered as being two species at the beginning of the 20th century is currently recognized as 12 taxa. Based on fur coloration pattern, they can be divided into grayish and reddish forms. Two major models have been proposed to explain the extensive speciation events in the Malagasy fauna. The best known suggests that major rivers and mountains combine to act as effective barriers to gene flow and thereby facilitate allopatric speciation processes. A more recent model used an analysis of watersheds in the context of Quaternary climatic shifts to explain the process of explosive speciation on the island. We tested these two models by covering the areas between all major rivers (n = 8) in northwestern and northern Madagascar. Mouse lemurs were systematically caught, sampled and morphometrically characterized in 25 sites (with 2–49 individuals per site and species). A complete phylogeny was constructed on the basis of the sequences of three mitochondrial loci (in total 1296 bp). The phylogenetic data revealed a previously unknown biodiversity with three new mouse lemur species among the reddish forms, each having a very small distribution, i.e., being restricted to only one Inter-River-System (IRS). Morphometric analyses underlined their distinctiveness and a brief formal species description is provided. In contrast to the reddish forms, grayish forms have a very low species diversity coupled with broad distributions that cover more than one IRS. These differences among the species are discussed as outcome of divergent colonization scenarios. Elements of both biogeographic models are combined in a new hypothesis that aims to explain the speciation process leading to the present distribution of mouse lemurs in Madagascar.
- new species