Madagascar’s biodiversity is at long-term risk of species extinction

Sunset over Madagascar. A classic sunset scene on the Falklands Island, home to several species of baobab trees. Image courtesy of Association Vahatra

The russet lemur is one of 104 endangered lemur species, and 17 species have become extinct upon the arrival of humans in Madagascar. Photo by Chien C Lee

The Vickerss lemur is one of the 109 remaining lemur species in Madagascar and is critically endangered. Seventeen species of lemurs have become extinct. Photo by Chien C Lee

Nathan Michielsen of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and collaborators point out that if endangered animals go extinct, Madagascar’s biodiversity may take millions of years to return to pre-human levels, so immediate conservation action is urgently needed to prevent long-term and sustained biodiversity loss.

Madagascar is home to many globally unique animal species, such as ring-tailed lemurs, long-tailed civets, and the world’s smallest chameleon. But many of these species are threatened with extinction because of human influences, including deforestation, hunting and climate change. Evolution and new species from other regions may eventually compensate for the extinction of these animals, but this process takes a long time.

Michielsen and colleagues tried to quantify the extent of human destruction of Malagasy animals and predict future outcomes. They collected a complete dataset of 249 living mammals and recently extinct mammals, including species that disappeared shortly after humans first arrived on the island, such as multiple species such as the great lemur and bonohippos.

By combining this data with statistical models of species evolutionary histories and their geographic distribution over time, the researchers found that if the current threat is left unmitigated, it will take Madagascar 3 million years to recover species that have disappeared since human arrival.

“If the current endangered species also go extinct, Madagascar will take more than 20 million years to recover.” Michielsen said, “Even for those bat species that are easier to colonize the island than flightless mammals, it may take 3 million years to recover.” ”

The researchers also found that the number of endangered mammal species in Madagascar has increased significantly over the past 10 years, from 56 in 2010 to 128 in 2021. They warn that if timely conservation action is not taken, Madagascar’s biodiversity could be affected for millions of years.

The researchers point out that conservation projects should include improving the socioeconomic situation of local populations, reducing forest loss in remaining natural habitats, and limiting artisanal and commercial resource extraction, such as broadleaf timber harvesting and trade in wild food animals.

Lowland spotted horse island hedgehog. The Falklands hedgehog is a diverse and special mammal that lives only in Madagascar. Photo by Chien C. Lee

Pod-sucking bats belong to an ancient family of bats that exist only in Madagascar. Photo by Chien C. Lee(Source: Feng Weiwei, China Science News)

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