Goodman et al. (2006) suggest that L. catta evolved in dry habitats in the south and southwest of Madagascar, and later dispersed to more mesic highland areas. There is no subfossil record of L. catta outside of its current distribution (Godfrey et al., 1999). This is a remarkably flexible primate, found in a range of habitats throughout the south and southwest of the island, including spiny, brush and scrub, gallery and dry deciduous forests, anthropogenic savannah, and in the high-altitude regions of the Analavelona Massif in Toliara province, and the Andringitra mountain range (Goodman and Langrand, 1996; Goodman and Rasolonandrasana, 2001; Goodman et al., 2006; Sussman, 1974; Sussman et al., 2003) (Figure 1). In many of the drier forest habitats, L. catta occurs at low densities (Sussman et al., 2003). Higher densities are found in gallery and mesic forest patches, but few of these remain and are disappearing rapidly. Government and private reserves such as Beza Mahafaly, Andringitra, Andohahela, Isalo, Cap Ste. Marie, Anja, and Berenty support populations of varying densities, and scattered sacred forests provide protection to some populations (Sussman et al., 2003).
A broad survey in regions of south and southwestern Madagascar was conducted by Sussman et al. (2003) to document the presence of L. catta, current condition of its habitat, and extent of deforestation in areas once inhabited by the species. Approximately 3000 km were covered by vehicle, and comparisons were made of current habitat conditions with aerial topographic maps and Landsat images. Overall, conditions of rapid deforestation were found in many areas, the majority having occurred in the last 20 years. Much of the forest in this region of the island has been cleared in the past two decades for swidden agriculture, and thus, habitat, which previously supported ring-tailed lemur populations, is no longer viable.
The northwestern boundary of this species is not absolutely known; however, Goodman et al. (2006) suggest that it may extend to the Menabe region, between Parc Nationale de Kirindy-Mitea and the Morondava River, and Zinner et al. (2001) found L. catta just 60 km south of Morondava. Sussman et al. (2003) note that the forest at Antserananomby, one of the most northern areas in the geographical range of L. catta, and where Sussman studied this species in 1972, is still largely intact; however Tongobato, a forest that was near Antserananomby, no longer exists, as it has been cleared for agriculture. Throughout the unprotected dry forests of the southwest, L. catta exist at very low densities, and in many cases
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