Primates at risk from cyclones and drought

Posted by Ken Kola

An increase in extreme weather conditions is putting mammals, especially primates, at greater risk of extinction, according to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

The team has mapped out the territories of almost six thousand land mammal populations, and overlaid this onto the regions where droughts and cyclones are most likely to occur. This allowed them to identify species at high risk of exposure to extreme weather.

"Approximately a third of the species assessed have at least a quarter of their range exposed to cyclones, droughts or a combination of both," says ZSL's Eric Ameca y Juárez.

"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'."

In particular, primates - already among the most endangered mammals in the world - appear to be 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.

In Madagascar, the 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.

"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," says ZSL research fellow Dr Nathalie Pettorelli.

"It is essential we identify species at greatest risk so that we can better inform conservation management in the face of global environmental change."