By Jade Boyd
Widespread logging and hunting have endangered virtually all of Madagascar’s 100-plus species of iconic lemurs, and a new study by Rice University ecologists illustrates how saving the animals may also be key to saving the island’s largest trees.
“Forest loss is a huge problem in Madagascar right now, but our study suggests that just saving the trees is not enough,” said Amy Dunham, associate professor of biosciences at Rice and co-author of a paper appearing online today in a special issue of the International Journal of Primatology. “Not only are we facing the loss of these unique, charismatic animals, we’re also losing their role in the ecosystem. Without lemurs, the rainforests themselves will change because the lemurs alone disperse the seeds of many of the forests’ largest hardwoods.”
The study builds upon nearly a decade of collaborative work by Dunham and lead author Onja Razafindratsima at the island nation’s Ranomafana National Park.
Lemurs mostly eat fruit, and for many of the largest trees in Madagascar, lemurs are the only animals large enough to ingest the seeds of their fruit. By dispersing seeds throughout the forest in their scat, lemurs serve as the unwitting gardeners of these large canopy trees.
a combination of political instability, government mismanagement, a lack of forest operation controls and a failure to impose punitive penalties on well-known traffickers contributed to what was effectively zero control over the management of precious timber resources in Madagascar between March 2010 to March 2015, according to a new TRAFFIC study released today.
At least 350,000 trees were illegally felled inside protected areas and at least 150,000 tonnes of logs illegally exported to destinations including China, Malaysia and Mauritius over the five-year period, according to the study: Timber Island: The Rosewood and Ebony Trade of Madagascar.
The lack of regulation was compounded by additional factors including widespread poverty, corruption, poor species identification skills at point of harvest and deficient knowledge about timber resources and led to rampant, unregulated felling of precious timber species.