Conservation Implications

Ganzhorn and colleagues (1999) showed that low-level disturbance can have a large impact on forests and lemur populations. Recent surveys and censuses of lemurs have shown that there has been continued deforestation, fragmentation, and hunting in unprotected forested areas of Madagascar (Irwin et al., 2000, 2005; Lehman and Wright, 2000, 2005, Sussman et al., 2003). In a 2005 global mammal assessment, critically endangered species of lemurs were assessed, and these included Eulemur albocollaris, Hapalemur aureus, Prolemur (Hapalemur) simus, Propithecus perrieri, P. candidus, and Varecia variegata (Banks, in press; Mittermieier et al., 2006). These lemur species in particular are on the brink of extinction with the number of adult individuals perhaps in the hundreds, and these species will be challenged by any changes in climate.

Conservation action, such the Durban Vision of increasing the protected areas of Madagascar by three times in 5 years, has become a Madagascar governmental goal (Mittermeier et al., 2006). New tools such as GIS and satellite images are assisting with a landscape view to conservation to provide a more comprehensive approach to targeting populations at risk (Green and Sussman, 1990; Sussman et al., 2003; Irwin et al., 2005; Unruh et al., 2005). There is hope that long-term research on behavior, ecology, and demography is providing better data to target the issues to address that will assist in lemur conservation (Richard et al., 1991, 2002; Jernvall and Wright, 1998; Sauther, 1998; Overdorff et al., 1999; Sauther et al., 1999; Ganzhorn, 2002; Jolly et al., 2002; Wright and Andriamihaja, 2002, 2003; Pochron and Wright, 2003; Wright, 2004; King et al., 2005). Implementing programs that build on this knowledge may preserve the most endangered species into the future. However, the dangers of climate change including increased temperatures, continued desiccation, and increased frequency of cyclone and drought cycles must be closely monitored, as these findings increase the hidden and apparent dangers of losing lemur populations and eventually species survival.

It is hypothesized that the lemur's traits have evolved to cope with the unpredictable and climatically difficult island of Madagascar (Wright, 1999). Many of these traits are adaptations to either conserve energy or maximize the use of scarce resources (Gould et al., 1999; Vasey, 2005). Lemurs are resilient, but this resiliency has its limits. The effects of rapid climate change on the ecology and long-term survival of lemurs may be large, and further amplified by human disturbance and we need to consider these factors in our conservation planning.

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