A new study indicates that bamboo lemurs may severely suffer due to climate change. These cat-sized animals that live in Madagascar represent one of the most endangered species on Earth. They only eat a certain species of bamboo as well as the wood trunk called culm. Nevertheless, they prefer to chew on the tender and nutritious bamboo shoots. Bamboo lemurs use their strong teeth to tear apart culm only when they have nothing else to eat during the dry season. Otherwise, bamboo is their favorite food.
However, new research published on October 26 in ‘Current Biology’ indicates that climate change may affect lemurs’ habits since the area where they live will be affected more by the dry season. In this way, lemurs will need to feed on culm for longer periods than they were used to. Researchers indicate that they developed an analysis of climate, anatomical, paleontological and behavioral data to see how lemurs react to this change in their menu.
Climate change affects numerous animal species
Hence, they revealed that bamboo lemurs could slowly starve. Patricia Wright is one of the authors from the Stony Brook University. She indicates that climate change may turn to be “a stealthy killer” when it comes to bamboo lemurs’ diet. Climate change forces them to rely on a suboptimal part of their food for a longer period than they are used to. This can tip the balance in the detriment of lemurs. They may easily reach extinction levels since they are already recognized as one of the endangered species on our planet.
Wright together with her colleagues from Australia and Finland demonstrated that bamboo lemurs feature highly specialized teeth, similar with those of giant pandas. Panda is the only other animal in the world which feeds on culm. During the cold and dry season, these specialized teeth help them survive by eating only culm. Researchers spent numerous hours analyzing the behavior and feeding habits of bamboo lemurs living in their natural habitat.
Hence, scientists spent over 18 months examining these animals’ behavior in the Ranomafana National Park in Madagascar. In total, they managed to collect more than 2,000 feeding observations. The data they have gathered proved that bamboo lemurs spend 95% of the feeding time consuming a single species of bamboo. When the dry season hits, they eat culm from August to November.
Bamboo lemurs will soon become extinct
Scientists compared the distribution of bamboo lemurs in Madagascar to their previous distribution from the past. After they have analyzed some fossils, the results indicated that lemurs could live over a broader range. Researchers noticed that these animals remained only in some parts of the island where the dry season seems to be relatively shorter than the rest of the island.
This means that shorter dry seasons were extremely important for the survival of bamboo lemurs in the past. Nevertheless, nowadays the effects of climate change are much more persistent than they were in the past. Scientists indicate that the areas where lemurs live now are likely to experience longer dry seasons in the future. In this case, lemurs can only eat culm for extended periods, much longer than before. Hence, their chance of survival is at risk since they are not accustomed to eating only culm.
Scientists also highlight the fact that this study may also shed light on the development and eating habits of giant pandas. They also eat culm and bamboo, and they may also suffer due to drier periods. Climate change brings higher temperatures every year, increasing the risk of killing hundreds of species of plants. They simply dry out because of the drought.
Deforestation and bamboo distribution are other factors that affect the well-being of pandas, damaging their habitat. Since the areas where they live are affected by deforestation, they will need to adapt to other weather conditions, moving in new locations. In case they are not able to adapt, the whole species will suffer, and numerous individuals could die.
Pandas suffer due to a similar problem
Nevertheless, climate change also affects their development because it alters the seasonal availability of nutritious bamboo parts. Most likely, there are more animal species out there which have highly specialized diets. They may be just as vulnerable as pandas and bamboo lemurs.
Wright indicates that in Asia the number of red and giant pandas has decreased as they have less extended geographical ranges than in the past. Paleontological and historical records indicate that their ancestors used to live in wider geographical ranges. In a similar way, in Madagascar, the golden bamboo lemur and the greater bamboo lemur have restricted distributions within this island. Dietary specializations and the fact that they are an endangered species indicates that bamboo lemurs are highly vulnerable when it comes to changes in climate.
Jukka Jernvall from the University of Helsinki indicates that the new research can help other scientists identify the ways in which climate change triggers animals’ extinction. Numerous other species also have to cope with similar tough conditions, seeing how their food diminishes day after day. Jernvall also indicates that researchers everywhere should not stop studying the endangered species and they should try to help them. Otherwise, they may go extinct sooner than we believe. When the number of animals in a species is scarce, we will be less able to protect them.
Now, researchers claim that they hope that the climate models together with their new study can be used to develop bamboo corridors. They would help isolated lemur populations connect with other areas on the island. In this way, they will be able to expand as a species, developing other numerous habitats on the island.
Bamboo lemurs along with other animal species in the world suffer because of droughts and heat waves brought by climate change. Climate change does not only affects humans and triggers glaciers meltdown, but it slowly affects every creature on this planet. Policymakers should enforce conservation efforts to protect these species to save them from extinction.