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Protecting This Lemur Could Save the Madagascar Rainforest

The outlook for eastern rainforests in Madagascar is dismal, says a new study in Nature Climate Change. The country, which plays host to a large number of plants and animals found nowhere else, could lose up to 93% of its rainforest habitat by 2070 due to combined effects of deforestation and climate change.

Authors of the study included Professor Andrea Baden (Hunter College, The Graduate Center) and Ph.D. student Amanda Mancini (The Graduate Center).

The ruffed lemur, which is considered critically endangered, is found only in Madagascar. Scientists use the population of these lemurs to gauge how the rest of the rainforest ecosystem is doing. In other words, the lemurs act as an indicator species. The finding that strict environmental protections would only bring lemur habitat loss down to 62%, then, does not bode well for the other animals and plants of Malagasy forests.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new—humans destroyed 44% of Madagascar’s forest cover between 1953 and 2014, and invasive species and overharvesting have already damaged the island nation’s biodiversity. The issue is also more complicated than it appears. The country has limited resources for conservation efforts, and lemurs are hunted for food. As food availability becomes more and more of a challenge due to climate change, the Malagasy people may be forced to use more forest land for farming.

To preserve what is left, the scientists say, it will be essential to maintain currently protected areas and lemur corridors, and plant more trees, in the hopes of buying time to enact climate solutions.

“The results from our study will be useful to nonprofit organizations, park management, and the broader conservation community,” Baden told The Graduate Center. “Our results indicate potential conservation opportunities for ruffed lemurs and any of the rainforest-dwellers that rely on forest cover and connectivity.”