The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Aye-aye demography and conservation genomics


1Department of Anthropology, Penn State University, 2Center for Conservation and Research, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, 3Center for Comparative Genomics and Bioinformatics, Penn State University

Saturday 1:00-1:15, Parlors Add to calendar

Compared to other lemurs, aye-ayes have a relatively slow life history, including late weaning and a protracted learning period. While aye-ayes have the largest species range of any extant lemur, their population densities are likely very low. They are primarily solitary foragers with impressively extensive home ranges. Considered in the context of Madagascar’s continued forest degradation and fragmentation, such a demographic profile could have severe implications for the long-term survival of this species.

To test demographic and evolutionary hypotheses and generate data for conservation planning, we sequenced the genomes of 15 wild or wild-born aye-aye individuals, 5 from each of three different regions of Madagascar (Northwest [e.g., Anjiamangirana], Northeast [e.g., Mananara-Nord], and extreme North [e.g., Daraina]).

Analysis of this dataset is ongoing, but early findings include that aye-ayes have the lowest level of nuclear genome genetic diversity of any primate yet studied, consistent with our knowledge of their low population densities. In addition, the branch length of the aye-aye lineage, after divergence from other lemurs, is relatively short compared to other primates, surprisingly even 10% shorter than that of the human lineage, otherwise known for a slow molecular clock. This result may be explained, in part, by the slow aye-aye life history.

On the whole, our results suggest that aye-ayes may be at higher risk of extinction than previously thought. Additional demographic study and monitoring are needed urgently.

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