Morphological characterization of a brown lemur hybrid zone (Eulemur rufifrons × E. cinereiceps)



Hybridization has recently been identified as a pervasive force in the evolution of primates. In this study, we characterized a hybrid zone between two species of brown lemur (Eulemur rufifrons and E. cinereiceps) in the Andringitra region of southeastern Madagascar using morphological traits. We immobilized animals along a north-south transect (∼80 km), scored them for their degree of hybridity using pelage traits and measured standard morphometric variables. Results from our study suggest that hybridization between E. rufifrons and E. cinereiceps is extensive, with the hybrid zone extending over 42.6 km and being composed mostly of later generation hybrids. We also identified significant variation between ancestral groups in our study: hybrid males exhibited longer tails than both parental species and sexual dimorphism in upper canine height favoring males was documented in E. rufifrons. These patterns could suggest that gene flow between parental and hybrid populations is relatively limited. Finally, significant differences between ancestral groups in relative body mass and skin-fold thickness were absent in our study, indicating that, as measured by these proxies, hybrids are equally as fit as parental forms. Based on these preliminary findings, the Andringitra hybrid zone could conform to the bounded superiority model of hybrid zone stability (i.e., it could be being maintained by selection favoring hybrids within transitional habitats). Accordingly, hybrids in Andringitra may be an unusual case among primates, representing a stable recombinant but distinct lineage. This conclusion has important implications for evolutionary processes within the brown lemur species complex. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.