Evolutionary and phylogenetic insights from a nuclear genome sequence of the extinct, giant ‘subfossil’ koala lemur Megaladapis edwardsi
Stephanie Marciniak, Mehreen R. Mughal, Laurie R. Godfrey, Richard J. Bankoff, Heritiana Randrianatoandro, Brooke E. Crowley, Christina M. Bergey, Kathleen M. Muldoon, Jeannot Randrianasy, Brigitte M. Raharivololona, Stephan C. Schuster, Ripan S. Malhi, Anne D. Yoder, Edward E. Louis Jr., Logan Kistler, George H. Perry
Abstract: No endemic Madagascar animal with body mass >10 kg survived a relatively recent wave of extinction on the island. From morphological and isotopic analyses of skeletal ‘subfossil’ remains we can reconstruct some of the biology and behavioral ecology of giant lemurs (primates; up to ~160 kg), elephant birds (up to ~860 kg), and other extraordinary Malagasy megafauna that survived well into the past millennium. Yet much about the evolutionary biology of these now extinct species remains unknown, along with persistent phylogenetic uncertainty in some cases. Thankfully, despite the challenges of DNA preservation in tropical and sub-tropical environments, technical advances have enabled the recovery of ancient DNA from some Malagasy subfossil specimens. Here we present a nuclear genome sequence (~2X coverage) for one of the largest extinct lemurs, the koala lemur Megaladapis edwardsi (~85kg). To support the testing of key phylogenetic and evolutionary hypotheses we also generated new high-coverage complete nuclear genomes for two extant lemur species, Eulemur rufifrons and Lepilemur mustelinus, and we aligned these sequences with previously published genomes for three other extant lemur species and 47 non-lemur vertebrates. Our phylogenetic results confirm that Megaladapis is most closely related to the extant Lemuridae (typified in our analysis by E. rufifrons) to the exclusion of L. mustelinus, which contradicts morphology-based phylogenies. Our evolutionary analyses identified significant convergent evolution between M. edwardsi and extant folivorous primates (colobine monkeys) and ungulate herbivores (horses) in genes encoding protein products that function in the biodegradation of plant toxins and nutrient absorption. These results suggest that koala lemurs were highly adapted to a leaf-based diet, which may also explain their convergent craniodental morphology with the small-bodied folivore Lepilemur.