Madagascar’s unique island fauna faces an imminent wave of extinction

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If the endangered mammals on the island of Madagascar go extinct, 23 million years of evolutionary history could be wiped out, according to a study.

From the ring-tailed lemur to the aye-aye, a nocturnal primate, more than 20 million years of unique evolutionary history could be wiped from the planet if nothing is done to prevent the extinction of Madagascar’s endangered mammals, according to a new study.

It would already take 3 million years to recover the diversity of mammal species that have been extinct since humans settled on the island 2,500 years ago. But much more is at risk in the coming decades: if the endangered species of mammals in Madagascar go extinct, the life forms created by 23 million years of evolutionary history will be destroyed.

Our results suggest that an extinction wave with profound evolutionary impact is imminent in Madagascar unless immediate conservation measures are taken.wrote the researchers in an article published in Nature Communications. The island of Madagascar is one of the planet’s biodiversity hotspots, with 90% of its species found nowhere else on the planet, but more than half of its mammal species are threatened with extinction.

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Unique Fauna of the Island of Madagascar

The stakes are high because the island is relatively untouched and home to wildlife that hasn’t evolved anywhere else since it broke away from greater India some 88 million years ago. It’s the fourth largest island in the world, the size of Ukraine, and much of its diversity is based on species that came from Africa and then diversified over millions of years.

It’s about putting things in perspective: we’re losing unique traits of species that are unlikely to ever evolve again.said lead researcher Dr. Luis Valente of the Naturalis Center for Biodiversity in Leiden, the Netherlands, and the University of Groningen. “Each species is valuable in its own right; It’s like destroying a work of art, so what’s happening is pretty shocking.”. His team collaborated with researchers from the US and the conservation organization Association Vahatra in Madagascar.

The island is particularly known for its ring-tailed lemurs, members of a unique lineage of primates found nowhere else. Other known inhabitants include the fossa, a carnivorous cat-like animal, and the panther chameleon, as well as a wide variety of butterflies, orchids, baobab trees and many other unique species.

Biologists and paleontologists created a dataset showing all mammal species currently present on the island of Madagascar, those alive when humans arrived and those known only from the fossil record. Of the 249 identified species, 30 are extinct. More than 120 of the 219 species of mammals that now live on the island are in danger of extinction.

Species that have already been lost

Lost species can never return, so the study looked at how long it would take to regain the same levels of biodiversity through new species colonizing and evolving on the island.

brave said:Many of these species could become extinct in the next 10 to 20 years, they can’t wait much longer. It can quickly reach a point where a species is no longer viable. The main message is that biodiversity will not recover quickly. Even places that we consider untouched and truly untouched can be brought to the point of collapse very quickly.”.

The loss of mammals would have significant impacts on other plant and insect species that depend on them. brave said:It’s a ripple effect: the loss of these mammals would likely cause the ecosystem as a whole to collapse. Altogether, there are probably more than 23 million years in play.”.

The main threats are human-induced habitat destruction, climate change and hunting. In the last decade, the number of endangered mammal species on the island of Madagascar has more than doubled, from 56 in 2010 to 128 in 2021.

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Conservation programs for the island of Madagascar

Conservation programs are needed to create livelihoods for local people, prevent forests from being converted to farmland, and limit exploitation of resources such as hardwood trees and animals used for bushmeat, the paper’s authors said. .

Yadvinder Malhi, Professor of Ecosystem Sciences at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the research, said: “This fascinating study shows that it would take millions of years for natural processes to rebuild lost levels of biodiversity, and tens of millions of years .of years if currently endangered species are also lost.Although this study looked at Madagascar, similar analyzes could be done for other islands and continents, and I think they would tell a similar story.

He added: “The impact that humanity has already had on Earth’s biodiversity will last for millions of years, but the next few decades are very important to avoid a large-scale extinction that could have much deeper and longer-term consequences.“.

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