The great island of Madagascar has a long insular history, having split from Africa some 120 million years (myr) ago and from India around 88 myr ago (see below). The length of its isolation has much to do with its extraordinary biotic uniqueness. Madagascar's endemic primates, the lemurs, are the most spectacularly diversified element of a highly unusual fauna that displays an adaptive variety surpassing that of any comparable primate group, especially if the recently extinct "subfossil" forms are taken into account. But although from a geographical perspective the strepsirhine primates of Madagascar represent a contained unit, there are many reasons why it is hardly possible, still less desirable, to discuss their origins separately from the larger biogeographic tapestry within which they are woven. This is particularly true given the current total lack in Madagascar of a terrestrial Tertiary fossil record that might give a direct indication of the ancestral stock(s) from which today's major groups of Malagasy strepsirhine primates emerged. At least for the Paleocene and Eocene, the fossil records of Africa and Asia are only marginally better, with the result that inferences about the primate colonization of Madagascar have largely to be made from indirect—even highly indirect—evidence. For these reasons I begin this survey well before the initial emergence of the strepsirhines, with a brief overview of Madagascar's geological and geographical histories.
Ian Tattersall • Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, New York 10024 USA
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