AboutZoos, Since 2008


More than half of lemur species will lose habi­tat as cli­mate warms

pub­lished 22 Feb­ru­ary 2015 | mod­i­fied 22 Feb­ru­ary 2015

Antic­i­pated cli­mate changes in com­ing decades are likely to leave a lot of Madagascar’s lemurs look­ing for new places to live.

Lepilemur hubbardorumA new study, funded by Duke Uni­ver­sity, pre­dicts where the cat-​like pri­mates are likely to seek refuge if aver­age tem­per­a­tures through­out the island rise by 1.1 to 2.6 degrees by 2050, as pre­dicted. Rain­fall pat­terns are expected to change, too.

Changes can already be felt. “Older peo­ple in Mada­gas­car talk about how much drier and hot­ter it is now than when they were chil­dren,” said study co-​author Anne Yoder, direc­tor of the Duke Lemur Center.

Dis­tant pri­mate cousins to humans, lemurs evolved in Mada­gas­car and are found nowhere else on Earth except in zoos and sanctuaries.

First pub­lished online on 17 Feb­ru­ary in the jour­nal Ecol­ogy and Evo­lu­tion, the study includes maps show­ing where lemurs are likely to seek refuge as tem­per­a­tures rise and rain­fall pat­terns change across the 360,000 km2 island over the next 65 years. The researchers pre­dict that lemurs are likely to be on the move in search of new sources of the leaves and fruit they rely on for food.

Fifty-​seven of the roughly 100 known lemur species were included in the analy­sis. Some lemurs, like crowned sifakas, could fare rel­a­tively well. They and eight other species stud­ied are pre­dicted to ben­e­fit from chang­ing cli­mate by gain­ing an aver­age of 80 per­cent addi­tional ter­ri­tory. For a quar­ter of the species stud­ied, ranges are pre­dicted to stay the same size.

But the major­ity of lemur species — sixty per­cent — could lose con­sid­er­able amounts of suit­able habi­tat before the end of the cen­tury due to cli­mate change alone. Their habi­tats are pre­dicted to shrink by hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres in some cases, and by nearly 70 per­cent on aver­age. Hardest-​hit would be species like the grey-​headed lemur and the golden bam­boo lemur, whose ranges are pre­dicted to shrink to less than 1 per­cent of cur­rent sizes.

Based on their pro­jec­tions, the researchers iden­ti­fied three pre­vi­ously over­looked areas on the island that will be par­tic­u­larly impor­tant for lemurs in the future. These include a moun­tain­ous rain­for­est region in north­east­ern Mada­gas­car where the Duke Lemur Cen­ter has been spon­sor­ing refor­esta­tion and other con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tives since 2012. The researchers also pin­pointed key for­est cor­ri­dors that would need pro­tec­tion if lemurs are to reach future habi­tats from their cur­rent spots.

The impor­tant [for­est] cor­ri­dors aren’t nec­es­sar­ily species-​rich, or the only areas where some species are found, but they pro­vide a key tran­si­tion zone if lemurs are to get from the areas where they live right now to the areas that will be most suit­able in the future.
Jason Lee Brown, co-​author, The City Col­lege of New York »

The rec­om­men­da­tions are all the more crit­i­cal given that the mod­els don’t take into account other threats to lemurs and the many ani­mals that share their for­est home, the researchers say. Every year, hun­dreds to thou­sands of hectares of Madagascar’s forests dis­ap­pear due to ille­gal log­ging, min­ing and burn­ing to clear space for crops. Such habi­tat losses will likely increase, as the country’s cur­rent pop­u­la­tion of about 22 mil­lion is pro­jected to more than dou­ble by 2050.

Most con­ser­va­tion plan­ning in Mada­gas­car pri­or­i­tizes areas con­tain­ing the high­est species diver­sity or the great­est num­ber of unique species, not habi­tats those species might move to in the future under cli­mate change, said Brown, who was a post-​doctoral researcher at Duke at the time of the study. “We’re try­ing to iden­tify areas that might be neglected by cur­rent action plans but will be crit­i­cally impor­tant for con­ser­va­tion plan­ning in Mada­gas­car going for­ward,” Anne Yoder said.

(Source: Duke Uni­ver­sity news release, 18.02.2015)

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