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Mon­keys face cli­mate change extinc­tion threat, new research indicates

pub­lished 16 June 2019 | mod­i­fied 16 June 2019

Titi monkey red bellied Plecturocebus molochMon­keys liv­ing in South Amer­ica are highly vul­ner­a­ble to cli­mate change and face an “ele­vated risk of extinc­tion”, accord­ing to a new Uni­ver­sity of Stirling-​led study.

The research, involv­ing an inter­na­tional team of sci­en­tists, found that a large per­cent­age of non-​human pri­mates — includ­ing mon­keys, lemurs and apes — are fac­ing sub­stan­tial tem­per­a­ture increases and marked habi­tat changes over the next 30 years.

The team, led by Dr Joana Car­valho of Stirling’s Fac­ulty of Nat­ural Sci­ences, said that New World mon­keys — which live pri­mar­ily in trop­i­cal South Amer­ica — will be par­tic­u­larly affected.

Dr Car­valho said: “Based on our analy­sis, it is clear that New World mon­keys in par­tic­u­lar can be con­sid­ered highly vul­ner­a­ble to pro­jected tem­per­a­ture increases, con­se­quently fac­ing an ele­vated risk of extinction.”

The study looked at all 426 species of non-​human pri­mates con­tained within the Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List data­base — and exam­ined their expo­sure risk to changes in cli­matic and land use con­di­tions fore­cast for the year 2050. The authors con­sid­ered the best-​case sce­nario — slowly declin­ing emis­sions, with appro­pri­ate mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures put in place — and the worst-​case sce­nario, assum­ing that emis­sions con­tinue to increase unchecked. The study results are pub­lished in a research paper on 29 April in the jour­nal Global Change Biol­ogy.

The team iden­ti­fied key regions where future con­di­tions will be par­tic­u­larly bleak for species — with New World mon­keys exposed to extreme lev­els of warm­ing. They said that 86 per­cent of Neotrop­i­cal pri­mate ranges will expe­ri­ence max­i­mum tem­per­a­ture increases of greater than 3°C, while extreme warm­ing — of more than 4°C — is likely to affect 41 per­cent of their ranges, includ­ing many areas that presently har­bour the high­est num­ber of pri­mate species.

Stud­ies that quan­tify what mag­ni­tudes of warm­ing pri­mates are able to tol­er­ate phys­i­o­log­i­cally are lack­ing. How­ever, we have rea­son to believe that extreme tem­per­a­ture increases — as those pre­dicted based on the low mit­i­ga­tion sce­nario — would most likely sur­pass the ther­mal tol­er­ance of many species.

Dr Joana Car­valho, lead author, Fac­ulty of Com­put­ing Sci­ence and Math­e­mat­ics, Uni­ver­sity of Stir­ling, UK

Pro­fes­sor Hjal­mar Kuehl, senior author of the study and pri­ma­tol­o­gist at the Max Planck Insti­tute for Evo­lu­tion­ary Anthro­pol­ogy in Ger­many, said: “Climate-​change mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures have not yet been sys­tem­at­i­cally included into on-​site man­age­ment and strate­gic devel­op­ment of pri­mate conservation.

Given the timescale on which cli­mate change and result­ing impact on pri­mate pop­u­la­tions will occur, efforts for inte­grat­ing cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures need to be enhanced urgently in order to be able to develop and imple­ment appro­pri­ate actions.”

The study also sug­gests that antic­i­pated changes in how humans use the land and alter exist­ing pri­mate habi­tats will exac­er­bate the neg­a­tive effects on pri­mate pop­u­la­tions brought about by global warming.

Accord­ing to the authors, about one quar­ter of Asian and African pri­mates will face up to 50 per­cent agri­cul­tural crop expan­sion within their range, while undis­turbed habi­tat is expected to dis­ap­pear nearly entirely across species’ ranges and will be replaced by some form of human-​disturbed habitat.

The authors con­clude that ‘urgent action’ is required — in rela­tion to the imple­men­ta­tion of climate-​change mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures — to avert pri­mate extinc­tions on an unprece­dented scale.

(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Stir­ling news release, 12.06.2019)

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