According to scientists studying the species in western Madagascar, the world’s smallest primate, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, may have gone extinct when large areas of its native forest were cleared for crops.
The lemur – which weighs just over a dormouse when mature – was first discovered in 1992. But researchers monitoring the species in one of its strongholds haven’t seen one since 2018.
The animal has a small area within the Menabe Antimena Protected Area (APMA) of 210,000 hectares (518,000 acres), created in 2015 alone.
Despite its protected status, the area has already lost 30% of its forests. In 2017 alone, farmers cut and burned 10,000 hectares (24,000 acres), the researchers said in a recent report published in the journal. Conservation science and practice.
A team from the German Primate Center (DPZ) manages a camp within the forest and has carried out long-term monitoring of Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, known to scientists as Microcebe Berthae.
“Our monthly population monitoring failed to record any sightings or catches of M. Berthae in a study area of 80 hectares (197 acres) since 2018, although they were common there, “said DPZ members and their co-authors.
“Even if it is impossible to prove it M. Berthae it actually went extinct while there is still forest left, these data are alarming and suggest it may now be the first species of lemurs to have gone extinct in the 21st century. “
Matthias Markolf, co-author of the article and president of the NGO Chances for Nature which is working to protect the remaining habitat of the mouse lemurs, told RFI that excessive amounts of forest had already been lost and fragmented.
“We may be – or get there soon – a point where the declining population trend in this and other species is no longer reversible,” he said.
“If the habitat does not remain suitable, we can no longer do anything to prevent the extinction of these species in the wild.”
APMA is home to two other endangered species: the Malagasy giant mouse and the flat-tailed turtle. But Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is the most famous of the three.
Markolf and his co-authors are unaware of other factors for its apparent demise, including climate change and local population fluctuations that have affected other lemur species.
But their absence from a previously seen location is worrying, and not just for the team that monitors them.
“Even when logging and fires do not actually affect inland forest, overall habitat reduction can lead to population collapse,” said Steig Johnson, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Calgary who was not part of the study.
“Short of total extinction, a severe population decline could already mean a loss of the functional roles this species plays in maintaining its ecosystem, such as seed dispersal.”
Johnson confirmed that despite growing threats to biodiversity globally, no extinctions of primate species have been documented this century.
“If extinction is confirmed for this mouse lemur, iconic for its small size, it will be a gigantic – and tragic – loss.”
Nicola Guthrie, a Johnson doctoral student in Calgary, recently spent 18 months conducting a population assessment of the endangered Jolly mouse lemur in southeastern Madagascar. He said the news that Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur could be extinct was “devastating,” but he hoped the animals would occupy other areas within or outside the remaining forest.
“Some species of mouse lemurs can be found living in degraded, non-forest habitats,” he said.
“Although it is an expensive endeavor, a priority now would be to conduct a study of the entire Menabe Antimena protected area to determine if they are extinct.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature warned in 2020 that 33 of Madagascar’s 107 lemur species were in danger of extinction, a category that puts them on the brink of extinction.
Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur – named in honor of the late Malagasy primatologist Berthe Rakotosamimanana – was one of those 33.