(Research foretells bleak future for mammals

Last Updated: Fri, Dec 14, 2012 09:10 hrs

London, Dec 14 (IANS) A higher fequency of extreme conditions such as cyclones and droughts, spurred by climate change, could subject mammals to a greater risk of extinction, a zoological study says.

Scientists mapped and assessed nearly 6,000 species of land mammals, juxtaposing this with information on where droughts and cyclones are most likely to occur. It could then identify species at high risk of exposure to extreme weather.

Eric Ameca Y. Juarez from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), who led the study, said: "Approximately a third of the species assessed have at least a quarter of their range exposed to cyclones, droughts or a combination of both," the journal Conservation Letters reports.

"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 (International Union for Conservation of Nature) under the category of climate change and severe weather," Juarez added, according to a ZSL statement.

In particular, primates, already among the most endangered mammals in the world, are highlighted as being especially at risk. Over 90 percent of the known habitats of the black howler monkey and Yucatan spider monkey have been damaged by the cyclones in the past and studies have documented ways they are able to adapt to the detrimental effects of these natural disasters.

Conversely, very little is known about the impact of these climatic extremes on other species. In Madagascar, the entire known distribution of the western woolly lemur and the golden bamboo lemur have been exposed to both cyclones and droughts. These endangered species are also amongst the world's most evolutionary distinct.

ZSL's research fellow Nathalie Pettorelli said: "This is the first study of its kind to look at which species are at risk from extreme climatic events. It is essential we identify species at greatest risk so that we can better inform conservation management experts in the face of global environmental change."

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