Models predict where lemurs will go as climate warms

February 18, 2015, Duke University
The habitat of this brown lemur in Madagascar is likely to shrink by half before the end of the century due to climate change, finds a Duke University study. Credit: David Haring, Duke Lemur Center

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

A new study 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.

Published 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 225,000-square-mile 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 kilometers 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 corridors aren't necessarily species-rich, or the only areas where some species are found," said co-author Jason Lee Brown of The City College of New York. "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."

The recommendations are all the more critical given that the models don't take into account other threats to and the many animals that share their forest home, the researchers say.

Every year, thousands of acres 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 might move to in the future under , said Brown, who was a postdoctoral 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," Yoder said.

Explore further: Endangered Madagascar lemurs illegally kept as pets may threaten species conservation and survival

More information: "Shifting ranges and conservation challenges for lemurs in the face of climate change," Brown, Jason and Anne Yoder. Ecology and Evolution, Feb. 2015. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.1418

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1 / 5 (6) Feb 18, 2015
First it was the Polar Bears, then the butterflies, then the corals...what next?
Damn you non-existent global warming!
5 / 5 (4) Feb 18, 2015
Interesting, wonder if it can predict where we will go?
3.3 / 5 (4) Feb 18, 2015
Sure will miss you jaszzy_i_man, but it sounds like you prefer getting your science from talk show hosts and politicians rather than scientists.

I'm curious about all these ridiculous trolls that show up every time the word climate is in the title,. Some are clearly just senile old fox news dido heads and I guess others that can still make complete sentences are working in the oil or gas industries. Which are you jazzy?
1 / 5 (2) Feb 19, 2015
Blah...blah.. I'm curious about all these ridiculous trolls that show up every time the word climate is in the title,. Some are clearly just senile old fox news dido heads and I guess others that can still make complete sentences are working in the oil or gas industries. Which are you jazzy?

Hmm... is that what your momma told you?
5 / 5 (5) Feb 19, 2015
Sorry jazzy I meant my comment for antigooracle, who has provided an answer in his case - a senile old dido head, not capable of a rational discussion.
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 19, 2015
Hey max, you shouldn't believe everything your momma tells you about me.
1 / 5 (3) Feb 20, 2015
Talk about the pot and the kettle! Everyone that comments on here is a troll. No? How many AGWites have sold their cars? If I believed what they do I could not condone owning one. They just like getting under skeptics' skin. It comes from being powerless. We're so far ahead. If you live in the US or UK, how much of your tax monies go toward climate change mitigation? A few cents? Now, look at the military. Hundreds of pounds/dollars? The military dumps anything they want wherever they want whenever they want, shoots dogs for practice, carries out extrajudicial killings, uses SONAR that deafens marine life- the list is endless. Hundreds of dollars/pounds go to that per taxpayer. If they believed 1/100 of what they preach, how could they pay so much for all that to go on?

I do like these stories though for the furry animals. Don't care about 'em in the wild, but they sure are a turn on to get a release. That lemur. Think I'm gonna puddle

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