Oxford, September 25th 2006. A change in climate could mean the difference between survival and extinction for Madagascar's endangered lemurs, reveals a report by Earthwatch scientist Dr. Patricia Wright of Stony Brook University.*
The twenty-year field study indicates that even subtle changes in climate affect the reproductive success of the Milne-Edward's sifakas lemur (Propithecus edwardsi). Older female sifakas - who can reach up to 30 years of age - readily reproduce, but their infants only survive if there is sufficient rain during their lactation period. Sifaka milk relies on large quantities of water and nutrients, drawn from their leaf food, so in drier years older females with worn teeth are unable to chew enough leaves to produce sufficient quantities of milk, leading to higher infant mortality.
"It is shocking that just a slight change in climate, even in the rainforest where we assume there is plenty of water, can impact infant survival so dramatically," says Dr. Wright. "With a potential five more births during the latter decade of each female lemur's life, the impact of climate change and deforestation on the population will be devastating."
For over a decade, Dr. Wright has been working with Earthwatch in Ranomafana National Park to collect behavioural data on highly endangered lemurs. This long term study also suggests a decline in the greater bamboo lemur, whose survival depends on bamboo plants found near rivers. Research suggests there are less than 100 individuals in Madagascar, leaving the species vulnerable to extinction from habitat and climate change.
"Tropical rainforests, though usually amongst the most stable habitats on earth, are still highly sensitive to climate change. In these forests and elsewhere, the world's threatened species are becoming even more endangered and that is why Earthwatch is planning to increase its research funding into mitigating, and adapting to, the effects of climate change", adds Dr Roger Mitchell, Earthwatch Chief Scientist.
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