Lemurs: Effects of human encroachment of red ruffed lemurs in forest fragments, Madagascar
In the rain forests of Madagascar, fruit-eating lemurs help the forests and local subsistence farming economies thrive. Many lemurs disperse the seeds of rain forest trees and lemurs attract tourists from around the world. Lemurs are famous representatives of the unique—and mostly endemic—fauna and flora of Madagascar. Throughout the eastern rain forest, endangered lemurs are hunted; hardwood trees are logged; and forest is cut for subsistence farming by local people. These activities affect the persistence of the forest-dwelling lemurs.
Thanks in part to support from the Minnesota Zoo’s Ulysses S. Seal Conservation Grant Program, Barbara Martinez, Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota, is studying the ecology and conservation of the endangered red-ruffed lemur (Varecia rubra). The global range of this species lies in northeastern Madagascar on the Masoala Peninsula. Masoala National Park, the largest park in Madagascar, covers 840 miles of the peninsula. Barbara’s main research project is evaluating a reforestation program aiming to capitalize on the seed dispersal abilities of the red-ruffed lemur to restore degraded rain forest in the Park.
This project is located near a village called Ambatoladama. At this site, there is a narrow swath of forest connecting two larger parcels of forest—called a “corridor”. Former agricultural plots, now dominated by non-forest vegetation, lie within this forest corridor. Since 1997, park employees have been planting forest tree seedlings, most of which are also lemur foods, in these former agricultural plots with the goal of luring lemurs into the plots to disperse more forest species—red-ruffed lemurs disperse seeds through their feces. However, park managers do not know how successful red-ruffed lemurs are at dispersing seeds. This is where Barbara’s research plays an important role studying the diet, seed dispersal, and movement patterns of red-ruffed lemurs living within the corridor at Ambatoladama. Data from her research will provide park managers with scientific information so they can adapt their current management strategy to the ecology of red-ruffed lemurs.
In 2006, the Minnesota Zoo’s Ulysses S. Seal Conservation Program awarded this conservation project $2,500 to purchase radio collars to increase the number of animals able to be studied. Staff champion for this project was Dr. Jim Rasmussen, Senior veterinarian.