Species On The Move

As climate change impacts habitats around the world, species are on the move, trying to adapt — and survive.

About This Species

Lemurs, the furry, charismatic mammals adored by many, are intrinsic to Madagascar. Roughly 100 lemur species live in the African island nation, where they play a critical ecological role in maintaining the forest habitats. Healthy lemur populations mean a healthy environment—but lemurs are far from thriving. Habitat loss from deforestation has been devastating, making the species among the most endangered in the world. Further losses—like those projected from climate change—could trigger extinction cascades. That could have disastrous consequences both ecologically and economically, because lemur-driven tourism revenue is central to Madagascar's economy.

A lemur family

Lemurs are among the most threatened species in the world. (Photo: Flickr user Maëlick)

Conservation Status

Lemurs have been identified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as one of the world's most endangered mammals. Out of the roughly 100 lemur species, 24 are listed on IUCN's Red List as "critically endangered," 49 are "endangered" and 20 are "vulnerable." The greatest threat to lemurs has been deforestation, which has claimed more than 90 percent of Madagascar's natural habitat over the last 200 years. And what remains is threatened by slash-and-burn rice cultivation and lumber collection. The human population of Madagascar is expected to more than double in the next few decades, from 21.9 million in 2013 to 53.6 million in 2050, which will only increase the pressure on existing natural habitats.

Looking Forward

Lemurs are facing a new threat from climate change. A 2015 study in the journal "Ecology and Evolution" of 57 lemur species found that 60 percent of them would experience significant range reductions in the next 70 years due entirely to climate change. For these species, ranges sizes were predicted to shrink by an average of 59.6 percent. The species' ranges are projected to shift significantly in that time—in some cases by hundreds of miles.


With climate change comes a new threat to lemurs. (Photo: Flickr user Jon Lucas)

Some of the lemur species not included in the study could face even more dire circumstances, because they are local to very specific habitats. They were not included because there wasn't adequate data. Typically, species will small distributions are dramatically impacted by even slight environmental changes. Lemurs' reproduction is also linked with temperature and season changes, so that could be impacted by climate change.

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