Evaluating effects of habitat loss, hunting, and El Niño on a threatened lemur
Erhart, Elizabeth M.; Dunham, Amy E.; Wright, Patricia C.; Overdorff, Deborah J.
Madagascar ranks as one of the world’s top extinction hotspots because of its high endemism and high rate of habitat degradation. Global climate phenomena such as El Nin˜ o Southern Oscillations may have confounding impacts on the island’s threatened biota but these effects are less well known. We performed a demographic study of Propithecus edwardsi, a lemur inhabiting the eastern rainforest of Madagascar, to evaluate the impact of deforestation, hunting, and El Nin˜ o on its population and to re-evaluate present endangerment categorization under the IUCN. Over 18 years of demographic data, including survival and fecundity rates were used to parameterize a stochastic population model structured with three stage classes (yearlings, juveniles, and adults). Results demonstrate that hunting and deforestation are the most significant threats to the population. Analysis of several plausible scenarios and combinations of threat revealed that a 50% population decline within three generations was very likely, supporting current IUCN classification. However, the analysis also suggested that changing global cycles may pose further threat. The average fecundity of lemurs was over 65% lower during El Nin˜ o years. While not as severe as deforestation or hunting, if El Nin˜ o events remain at the current high frequency there may be negative consequences for the population. We suggest that it is most critical for this species continued survival to create more protected areas, not only to thwart hunting and deforestation, but also to give this endangered lemur a better chance to recover from and adapt to altered climate cycles in the future.