A study conducted by a team of researchers from Duke University and published in the latest issue of the journal Biological Conservation, reveals that climate change could increase the population of lemur parasites and the diseases they carry.
To reach to this conclusion, the scientists used a combination of various environmental parameters and surveys of lemur health, to create probability maps for the distribution of parasites across Madagascar island.
The data were used as an input for prediction models that gave estimates for distribution of parasites by the year 2080. According to the lead author, Meredith Barrett, this allowed to identify locations that have high risks for lemur-human disease transmission.
In Madagascar, the population of lemurs is threatened not only by climate change, but also by humans, who hunt them or clear lemur’s forest habitats for farming and agricultural practices.
The temperature predictions put the animals at high risk. By year 2080 it is expected that the average temperatures might increase by up to 2.6 degrees Celsius.
Barrett’s study focuses exactly on this- the changes in environmental conditions and their influence on lemur’s population and disease distribution carried by these animals. The team looked at six common species of parasites that infect lemurs and are known to be transmitted to humans.
The results from the prediction models indicated that the range of lemur parasites could expand by as much as 60%.
The importance of the study is increased by the fact that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature identified lemurs as the most endangered mammals on earth.
As stated by Anne Yoder, senior author on the study and Director of the Duke Lemur Center, warmer temperatures create perfect conditions for spreading parasites quicker and further to places, which they could not inhibit before.
This puts lemurs in a situation that they have never dealt with before. The exposure to new pests and diseases could be lethal to their population.
The shift in parasite distribution will affect humans too, according to the authors, mainly because increasing population makes people occupy new territories, where transmission of diseases is very likely.
The authors are convinced that their results will help other researchers identify disease hotspots and help people be more prepared.