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Study IDs global warming risks to wildlife

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Black howler monkeys may face threats from extreme weather linked with global warming. Photo courtesy Denver Zoo.

Mammal species, including rare primates, face the greatest threat

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Mammal species like black howler monkeys are most at risk from extreme weather events tied to climate change, according to a new study by the Zoological Society of London. In general, mammals are most threatened, according to the research, which mapped out mammal habitats and overlapped with areas expected to see intensified drought and cyclones.

The paper, published this week in the journal Conservation Letters, describes the results of assessing almost six thousand species of land mammals in this way.

“Approximately a third of the species assessed have at least a quarter of their range exposed to cyclones, droughts or a combination of both,” said  ZSL biologist Eric Ameca y Juárez. “If these species are found to be highly susceptible to these conditions, it will lead to a substantial increase in the number of mammals classified as threatened by the IUCN under the category ‘climate change and severe weather’.”

More than 90 percent of the habitat used by black howler monkeys and Yucatan spider monkeys have been damaged by cyclones in the past, and studies have documented ways they are able to adapt to the detrimental effects of these natural disasters.

In contrast, very little is known about the impacts of these climatic extremes on other species. In Madagascar, entire known distributions of the western woolly lemur and the golden bamboo lemur have been exposed to both cyclones and drought. These endangered species are also amongst the world’s most evolutionary distinct, yet remain highly understudied.

“This is the first study of its kind to look at which species are at risk from extreme climatic events,” said ZSL research fellow Dr. Nathalie Pettorelli. “There are a number of factors which influence how an animal copes with exposure to natural disasters. It is essential we identify species at greatest risk so that we can better inform conservation management in the face of global environmental change.”

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