Insights from macroevolutionary modelling and ancestral state reconstruction into the radiation and historical dietary ecology of Lemuriformes (Primates, Mammalia).

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Lemurs once rivalled the diversity of rest of the primate order despite thier confinement to the island of Madagascar. We test the adaptive radiation model of Malagasy lemur diversity using a novel combination of phylogenetic comparative methods and geometric methods for quantifying tooth shape.


We apply macroevolutionary model fitting approaches and disparity through time analysis to dental topography metrics associated with dietary adaptation, an aspect of mammalian ecology which appears to be closely related to diversification in many clades. Metrics were also reconstructed at internal nodes of the lemur tree and these reconstructions were combined to generate dietary classification probabilities at internal nodes using discriminant function analysis. We used these reconstructions to calculate rates of transition toward folivory per million-year intervals. Finally, lower second molar shape was reconstructed at internal nodes by modelling the change in shape of 3D meshes using squared change parsimony along the branches of the lemur tree. Our analyses of dental topography metrics do not recover an early burst in rates of change or a pattern of early partitioning of subclade disparity. However, rates of change in adaptations for folivory were highest during the Oligocene, an interval of possible forest expansion on the island.


There was no clear phylogenetic signal of bursts of morphological evolution early in lemur history. Reconstruction of the molar morphologies corresponding to the ancestral nodes of the lemur tree suggest that this may have been driven by a shift toward defended plant resources, however. This suggests a response to the ecological opportunity offered by expanding forests, but not necessarily a classic adaptive radiation initiated by dispersal to Madagascar.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Fulwood, EL; Shan, S; Winchester, JM; Kirveslahti, H; Ravier, R; Kovalsky, S; Daubechies, I; Boyer, DM

Published Date

  • April 21, 2021

Published In

  • Bmc Ecology and Evolution

Volume / Issue

  • 21 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 60 -

PubMed ID

  • 33882818

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC8061064

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2730-7182

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2730-7182

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1186/s12862-021-01793-x


  • eng