Climate change may slowly starve bamboo lemurs

Climate change may slowly starve bamboo lemurs
Photograph of the greater bamboo lemur is a small cat sized primate living on the island of Madagascar and is considered to be one of the most endangered primates on Earth. Credit: Jukka Jernvall

Madagascar's Cat-sized greater bamboo lemurs are considered one of the most endangered primate species on Earth. They almost exclusively eat a single species of bamboo, including the woody trunk, known as culm. But they prefer the more nutritious and tender bamboo shoots and use their specialized teeth to gnaw on culm only when necessary, during the dry season.

Now, reporting in Current Biology on October 26, researchers provide evidence to suggest that as Earth's climate changes, lemurs will gradually be forced to eat culm for longer periods. Ultimately, they suggest that, based on an analysis of anatomical, behavioral, paleontological, and climate data, the lemurs could slowly starve.

"For extreme feeding specialists like the greater bamboo , climate change can be a stealthy killer," says Patricia Wright at Stony Brook University, one of the authors. "Making the lemurs rely on a suboptimal part of their food for just a bit longer may be enough to tip the balance from existence to extinction."

Wright and her colleagues from Finland and Australia first showed that the greater bamboo lemurs are equipped with highly complex and specialized teeth, just like giant pandas—the only other mammal capable of feeding on culm. These teeth make it possible for them to consume and survive on woody culm for parts of the year.

To find out more about the greater bamboo lemurs' feeding habits, the researchers spent hours watching them in their natural habitat in Madagascar's Ranomafana National Park over a period of 18 months. They collected more than 2,000 feeding observations in total. Those data showed that the lemurs spend 95 percent of their feeding time eating a single species of woody bamboo. But they only eat the culm from August to November, when dry conditions make tender shoots unavailable.

Climate change may slowly starve bamboo lemurs
In this photograph, the greater bamboo lemur eats the tough culm (trunk) of bamboo, which it only does so during the dry season, but it prefers bamboo shoots which are more nutritious. Credit: Jukka Jernvall

An analysis of the greater bamboo lemur's current distribution on the island of Madagascar compared to its distribution in the past, as inferred from fossils, suggests that the lemurs used to live over a broader range. The bamboo lemurs remain only in parts of the island where the is relatively short. In other words, it appears that a short dry season has been crucial to the survival of greater bamboo lemurs in the past.

But the researchers have bad news: climate models suggest that the areas where the lemurs currently are found are likely to experience longer and longer dry seasons in the future. As the lemurs are left with only culm to eat for longer periods, it could put their survival at risk.

The findings may have implications for understanding the fate of bamboo-feeding giant pandas, too, the researchers say. Giant pandas are threatened by deforestation and changes in the distribution of bamboo. But the new data suggest that a changing climate may also endanger bamboo feeders in a more subtle way, by affecting the seasonal availability of preferred and more nutritious bamboo parts. Other animals with highly specialized diets may prove similarly vulnerable.

Climate change may slowly starve bamboo lemurs
Photograph of a greater bamboo lemur infant, born in the beginning of the rainy season. Credit: Jukka Jernvall
"By studying specialists like the greater bamboo lemur, we can identify the different ways that climate change can cause extinction," says author Jukka Jernvall at University of Helsinki. "And if we do not study these endangered species now, they may go extinct before we know all the reasons why, and we'll be less able to protect what remains."

The researchers say they now hope that this expanded understanding of the greater bamboo lemurs, together with predictions, can be applied to building bamboo corridors, with the goal of connecting isolated lemur populations and expanding their habitats.


Explore further

Bamboo inspires optimal design for lightness and toughness

More information: Current Biology, Eronen and Zohdy et al.: "Feeding Ecology and Morphology Make a Bamboo Specialist Vulnerable to Climate Change" http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(17)31248-4 , DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.09.050
Journal information: Current Biology

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Citation: Climate change may slowly starve bamboo lemurs (2017, October 26) retrieved 26 May 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2017-10-climate-slowly-starve-bamboo-lemurs.html
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Oct 26, 2017
This is not, technically speaking, the science of anything. Like many other similar claimed threats, it is conjecture. The intended conclusions are known at the start of the "research".

Oct 26, 2017
It must be interesting to live in a world where your biggest threat is some kind of hippie conspiracy to take away your fucking truck by inventing global warming.

You see, in the world I live in, I use evidence to come to conclusions about the world around me, and there are some big issues that evidence has revealed to me. Luckily the solutions are also revealed, and generally they're pretty easy to get done, if it weren't for people like you who ignore evidence in favor of their imagined persecution.

Oct 26, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Oct 26, 2017
The political change to socialism in Venezuela is slowly starving humans in that nation. Climate change is a socialist weapon to globalize Venezuela economics. Reduction of global human population is a related left wing goal.

Oct 29, 2017
The political change to socialism in Venezuela is slowly starving humans in that nation. Climate change is a socialist weapon to globalize Venezuela economics. Reduction of global human population is a related left wing goal.


Too true. Both Fourier and Tyndall specifically mentioned Venezuela. To understand just how insidious this conspiracy is, they managed to do so before Marx even published anything!

Nov 15, 2017
@reeve/hannes the eu pseudoscience idiot cult member
At what point did you check in with the numerous critics of modern science?
this is the foundation of science, especially when critics have evidence
you failed again
What about the academic whistleblowers?
if they have evidence, they're validated
if they don't, they're considered pseudoscience idiots like the eu
you failed again
What about the known problems with peer review and the professionalization of academic science?
being dealt with by scientists seeking to make a better system
also: it's amazingly effective if you look at the overall statistics (you know, quantifiable measurement and observation of reality science type stuff?)
you failed again
When did you take into account the sociology and psychology at play?
actually a part of the scientific method, had you read up on the basics
but not only that, it's always studied and taken into consideration
you failed again

2Bcont'd

Nov 15, 2017
@reeve/hannes the eu pseudoscience idiot cult member cont'd
And how about the practices of science journalists...
1- journalism isn't science, nor is it always accurate
your own blogs validate that as you've blatantly lied

2- argument that science is flawed because journalistic issues [etc] is like saying gymnasts can't balance because journalists can't do the balance beam to Olympic standards
you failed again
Did you ever stop to take inventory of all of the debates...
yes. it's part of the reason there is a consensus on the problems (globally, i might add)
just because you don't understand the method doesn't mean no one else does
you failed again
At what point did you gather as much information as you could about all of the anomalies blah blah
still don't understand how science works, eh?
you failed again

essentially every argument you made is due to your ignorance about the scientific method and how science works

epic fail

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