Climate change may drive lemurs to extinction

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The Independent Online

Climate change will condemn the already endangered lemurs of Madagascar to extinction, a study shows.

Patricia Wright, of Stony Brook University in New York, studied the island's sifikas lemur over 20 years. She found that even a subtle reduction in rainfall in lemur habitats could cause extinction because they are so reliant on water during their reproductive cycle.

Her study revealed that in times of reduced rainfall, infant lemurs are unable to feed properly because females rely on large quantities of water to produce enough milk.

"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," said Dr Wright. "Tropical rainforests, though usually among 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."

Lemurs are found only in Madagascar, which is often referred to as the "eighth continent" by scientists because of the incredible diversity of species found on the island.

Lesley Dickie, a Madagascar expert at London Zoo, said three new species of lemur have been discovered in the past year alone and many more may yet be discovered. "The real concern is that some of these species are disappearing before we find them," she said.