DURHAM, N.C., Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Climate change could further threaten Madagascar's endangered lemurs by fueling the spread of parasites carrying deadly diseases, researchers say.
Duke University researchers have created maps of parasite distributions throughout the island today and combined them with climate projections for the decades ahead to estimate what parasite distributions might look like in the future.
"We can use these models to figure out where the risk of lemur-human disease transmission might be highest, and use that to better protect the future of lemur and human health," study lead author Meredith Barrett said.
Lemurs are native to the African island of Madagascar, where the challenges they face include the consequences of clearing 90 percent of their forest habitats for logging and farming. They are also hunted illegally for bushmeat.
In the face of these risks it is important to ensure they stay healthy as environmental conditions in their island home continue to change, Barrett said.
In the future, researchers said, rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns could lead to lemur parasites expanding their range by as much as 60 percent.
The research is particularly important now as lemurs have been identified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as the most endangered mammals on earth, said Anne Yoder, senior author on the study and Director of the Duke Lemur Center.