Climate change and deforestation are altering the behaviors of monkeys and lemurs, who are found less and less frequently in trees and more often on the ground, where risks to their well-being are increasing due to lack of food and shelter.
These alarming findings emerge from a study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, conducted by scientists from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA) and 123 other research institutions, including La Sapienza in Rome.
The team, led by Timothy Eppley, examined more than 150,000 hours of observations of 15 species of lemurs and 32 species of monkeys.
The research team, consisting of 118 co-authors, found that climate change and deforestation may have drastically altered the habits of these animals. “Our work grew out of an informal discussion among colleagues,” says Eppley, “We noticed that some populations of arboreal primates tend to spend more and more time on the ground.
The scientists estimated the influence of ecological factors, including potential human-induced pressures and/or traits unique to different species. According to the survey, groups that consumed less fruit and gathered in large social groups were more likely to come down from trees more frequently.
These traits, the scholars note, could act as a pre-adaptation. In addition, the authors report, primates who lived in warmer environments were more likely to adapt by using the soil more often. As climate change worsens and arboreal habitats shrink, primates that consume a more generalized diet and live in larger groups could more easily adapt to a terrestrial lifestyle.
“It will be necessary to evaluate the behavior of other species,” notes Luca Santini, of La Sapienza University in Rome, Italy, “but in general our work may indicate that human presence, which often poses a threat to primates, may interfere with the natural adaptability of the species to global change. “The shift from an arboreal to a terrestrial lifestyle,” concludes Giuseppe Donati, of Oxford Brookes University, “has happened before in primate evolution, but the rapid temperature changes observed due to climate change could pose a serious threat to these apes.