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Disaster map predicts bleak future for mammals

17/12/2012 12:33:13
world/Africa_2012/Alouatta_pigra_002_Juan_Carlos_Serio-Silva

Approximately a third of the species assessed have at least a quarter of their range exposed to cyclones, droughts or a combination of both. Photo credit Juan Carlos Serio-Silva

Mammals are in for a stormy ride as cyclones and droughts caused by climate change could threaten populations

December 2012. Mammals could be at a greater risk of extinction due to predicted increases in extreme weather conditions according to some new research. Scientists have mapped out land mammal populations, and overlapped this with information of where droughts and cyclones are most likely to occur. This allowed them to identify species at high risk of exposure to extreme weather. The paper describes the results of assessing almost six thousand species of land mammals in this way.

Cyclones & droughts
Lead author of the paper, ZSL's Eric Ameca y Juárez says: "Approximately a third of the species assessed have at least a quarter of their range exposed to cyclones, droughts or a combination of both. If these species are found to be highly susceptible to these conditions, it will lead to a substantial increase in the number of mammals classified as threatened by the IUCN under the category ‘climate change and severe weather'."

More than 90 per cent of black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) known habitats have been damaged by cyclones in the past. Photo credit ZSL/Francisco García-Orduña.

More than 90 per cent of black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) known habitats have been damaged by cyclones in the past. Photo credit ZSL/Francisco García-Orduña.

Primates in particular are in danger
In particular, primates - already among the most endangered mammals in the world - are highlighted as being especially at risk. Over 90 per cent of black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) and Yucatan spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi yucatanensis) known habitats have been damaged by cyclones in the past, and studies have documented ways they are able to adapt to the detrimental effects of these natural disasters.

Madagascar
In contrast, very little is known about the impacts of these climatic extremes on other species. In Madagascar, entire known distributions of the western woolly lemur (Avahi occidentalis) and the golden bamboo lemur (Hapalemur aureus) have been exposed to both cyclones and drought. These endangered species are also amongst the world's most evolutionary distinct, yet remain highly understudied.

ZSL's research fellow Dr Nathalie Pettorelli says: "This is the first study of its kind to look at which species are at risk from extreme climatic events. There are a number of factors which influence how an animal copes with exposure to natural disasters. It is essential we identify species at greatest risk so that we can better inform conservation management in the face of global environmental change." 

The study was published by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in the journal Conservation Letters

 

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