Water Availability Impacts Habitat Use by Red-Fronted Lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons): An Experimental and Observational Study

Abstract

With the predicted increase in extreme weather events as a result of global climate change, animals living in dry or seasonally dry habitats are likely to experience dramatic fluctuations in water availability from season to season and year to year. Understanding how animals respond to short-term changes in water availability is paramount for future conservation and management of water-dependent wild populations. We investigated how short-term changes to the availability of water influenced habitat use of four groups of red-fronted lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons) in a dry deciduous forest in western Madagascar using detailed spatial data collected from GPS collars over 15 weeks. We experimentally manipulated water availability in the habitat and compared ranging patterns of the lemurs during the experiments to those before and after the experiments. Lemur groups shifted the intensity of their habitat use relative to changes in natural and experimental water availability. Specifically, lemurs were more likely to spend time in areas near experimental water sources during the experiment than in the same areas without water. Lemurs were less likely to spend time near previous habitual water sources when experimental water sources were available. We observed shifts in ranging intensity in response to natural changes to water availability when waterholes disappeared across the dry season. Our findings support the importance of water for shaping wild animal ranging patterns. We propose that water should be a primary consideration in future studies of habitat use, especially given the potential for climate change and human land use to further alter water availability for wild animals.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Léonard Razafimanantsoa and the field assistants and staff of the German Primate Center (DPZ) Research Station at Kirindy Forest and the CNFEREF Morondava for supporting our study. We appreciate Mael Jaonasy Frangico’s valuable assistance with the data collection for this project. We thank James Herrera for feedback on the analytical methods and three anonymous reviewers, Dr. Onja Razafindratsima, and Prof. Joanna Setchell for feedback on the manuscript. We also would like to thank MICET (Madagascar Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments) for their support and facilitation of permits. This study was funded by NSF-1613482, the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation, Primate Conservation, Inc., and Duke Graduate School International Dissertation Travel Grant.

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CRA conceived and designed the study with input from CLN, PMK, and CF. CRA carried out the study and analyzed the data. PMK and CF provided logistical support. CRA wrote the manuscript; other authors provided editorial advice.

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Correspondence to Caroline R. Amoroso.

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Handling Editor: Onja H. Razafindratsima

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Amoroso, C.R., Kappeler, P.M., Fichtel, C. et al. Water Availability Impacts Habitat Use by Red-Fronted Lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons): An Experimental and Observational Study. Int J Primatol 41, 61–80 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-020-00136-9

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Keywords

  • Eulemur rufifrons
  • GPS collars
  • Habitat use
  • Ranging
  • Water scarcity