Expanding beyond well-known victims such as polar bears and coral reefs, the list is growing of species likely to be hard hit by climate change: from lizards to birds to amphibians. Now a new study has uncovered another group of species vulnerable to a warmer world: lemurs.
New research in Global Change Biology finds that warmer temperatures could interrupt lemurs’ ability to successfully reproduce and rear healthy young. For a group of primates native only to Madagascar and already pressured by deforestation and hunting, the news does not bode well.
“We’re starting to realize that not only are these hot spots of biodiversity facing habitat degradation and other anthropogenic effects, but they’re also being affected by the same changes we feel in the temperate zones,” says Amy Dunham, lead author of the study and assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Rice University.
Milne Edwards’ lemur. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Studying Milne-Edwards’ sifaka lemurs, Dunham found that El Niño conditions—which are expected to be enhanced by climate change—bring more rain to the sifaka’s habitat disrupting their ability to feed.
“When it rains heavily, lemurs are not active. They sit there and wait for the rain to stop, huddling for warmth,” Dunham explains. Heavy rains may knock fruit from trees at a time when mother lemurs need it most to feed hungry babies.
In fact, the study found clear evidence that El Niño conditions wreaked havoc on lemur reproduction and infant-rearing. According to the paper: Milne-Edwards’ sifaka lemur’s fecundity “was negatively affected when El Niño occurred in the period before conception, perhaps altering ovulation, or during the second six months of life, possibly reducing infant survival during weaning.”
According to the IUCN Red List, Milne-Edwards’ sifaka lemurs are already listed as Endangered due to habitat loss from deforestation and mining, as well as hunting for bush meat.
“Madagascar’s biodiversity is an ecological treasure,” Dunham says. “But its flora and fauna already face extinction from rapid deforestation and exploitation of natural resources. The additional negative effects of climate change make conservation concerns even more urgent.”
(05/13/2010) Lizards have evolved a variety of methods to escape predators: some will drop their tail if caught, many have coloring and patterning that blends in with their environment, a few have the ability to change their colors as their background changes, while a lot of them depend on bursts of speed to skitter away, but how does a lizard escape climate change? According to a new study in Science they don’t. The study finds that lizards are suffering local extinctions worldwide due exclusively to warmer temperatures. The researchers conclude that climate change could push 20 percent of the world’s lizards to extinction within 70 years.
(04/09/2010) A species of lemur has been rediscovered more than a century after it was last spotted, report researchers from McGill University, the German Primate Centre in Göttingen Germany, the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, and the University of Massachusetts.
(02/18/2010) Of the known 634 primate species in the world 48 percent are currently threatened with extinction, making mankind’s closes relatives one of the most endangered animal groups in the world. In order to bring awareness to the desperate state of primates, a new report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature highlights twenty-five primates in the most need of rapid conservation action. Compiled by 85 experts the report, entitled Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates, 2008–2010, includes six primates from Africa, eleven from Asia, three from Central and South America, and five from the island of Madagascar.
(11/14/2005) Researchers studying lemurs in Madagascar have discovered a link between tooth deterioration and rainfall amounts that suggests long-lived mammals may be particularly sensitive to changing environmental conditions–and that reproduction and infant survival is linked to tooth wear.