Global warming is forcing monkeys and lemurs to descend from trees, study finds

Global warming and deforestation are pushing monkeys, lemurs and other tree-dominated primates more frequently to the ground for food, water and shelter, according to a new study.

The research, published in the log PNAS On Mondaywarned that this change could put tree-dwelling species at greater risk due to a lack of their preferred food and shelter on the ground.

Scientists, including those from the nonprofit San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA) in the United States, have said these primates may experience more negative interaction with humans and pets as the world warms up and may experience a change in their eating habits.

In the study, an international team of scientists evaluated more than 150,000 hours of sighting data on 15 species of lemurs and 32 species of monkeys at 68 sites in the Americas and Madagascar.

The researchers estimated the influence of several factors such as potential anthropogenic and ecological pressures, as well as species-specific traits, on the time spent on the ground by these arboreal primates.

“This study began with a discussion among colleagues about how we had noticed that some populations of arboreal primates spend more time on the ground, but at relatively less disturbed sites members of the same species may never descend to the ground. “, study co-author Timothy Eppley of SDZWA said in a statement.

Scientists found that primates, which lived in warmer environments with less canopy, largely adapted by switching to intensive land use.

But monkeys and lemurs living closer to human infrastructure are less likely to descend to the ground, the researchers added, suggesting that human presence could interfere with these species’ adaptability to climate change.

The results also suggest that primates consuming less fruit and living in large social groups are more likely to descend to the ground.

Scientists suspect that these characteristics could be a potential “pre-adaptation” to life on the ground.

With the climate crisis worsening and tree habitats shrinking, the researchers said primates consuming a more generalized diet and living in larger groups could more easily adapt to a ground-based lifestyle.

Spending more time in the field could likely “cushion” some primates from the effects of forest degradation and global warming, they said.

However, scientists have warned that for less adaptable species, quick and effective conservation strategies will be essential to ensure their survival.

“Although similar ecological conditions and species traits may have influenced earlier evolutionary shifts from arboreal primates, including hominids, to life on the ground, it is clear that the current rate of deforestation and climate change puts most primate species at risk,” said Giuseppe Donati, another study co-author from Oxford Brookes University.

Teresa H. Sadler