Protect a brand new mouse lemur in Madagascar!

by SEED Madagascar
Protect a brand new mouse lemur in Madagascar!
Protect a brand new mouse lemur in Madagascar!
Protect a brand new mouse lemur in Madagascar!
Protect a brand new mouse lemur in Madagascar!
Protect a brand new mouse lemur in Madagascar!
Protect a brand new mouse lemur in Madagascar!
Protect a brand new mouse lemur in Madagascar!
Protect a brand new mouse lemur in Madagascar!
Over the past 18 months, Sam Hyde Roberts and the SEED Madagascar Conservation Research team have been hard at work collecting important field data on the mouse lemur species found in the littoral forest of Sainte Luce, southeast Madagascar. With over 1,800 traps nights, broad distributional surveys completed and 36 individual lemurs studied, the project is now coming to an end.
 
What has the project achieved?
The initial aim of this project was to establish definitively the identity of the mouse lemur species occurring in Sainte Luce. Whilst the identity of the species was initially uncertain, preliminary evidence suggested that the species was likely a new form of mouse lemur. However, following comprehensive genetic analysis at the German Primate Centre, we can now confirm that the species is, in fact, Microcebus tanosi, a recently recognised and poorly known species. The data collected as part of this project will now contribute to the global understanding of this species, and contribute directly to the IUCN’s formal assessment for the species. We foresee Microcebus tanosi being classified as ‘Endangered’ on the forthcoming IUCN Red List, once ratified by the IUCN Lemur Specialist Group.
 
What happens next?
Sam is studying several aspects of Microcebus tanosi ecology for his PhD project, based at Oxford Brookes University, UK. His work constitutes the first focused ecological assessment of the species and includes work on population density within the littoral forest, identifying species boundaries, and the determination of territory and home range size using radio telemetry. Sam’s research is expected to be published in 2019/20.
 
SEED Madagascar has also been working closely with Sam and the Conservation Research team to develop a new practical conservation project: creating habitat corridors to reunite isolated populations of nocturnal lemurs, including Microcebus tanosi, across the forest fragments of Sainte Luce. Project Ala is currently seeking funding – for more information visit the project page on our website and our new Global Giving project page!
We would like to take this opportunity to once again thank everyone who has generously donated to this project.
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Nursery at TBSE's Biodiversity Research Centre
Nursery at TBSE's Biodiversity Research Centre

The 15 remaining fragments that make up the forest in Sainte Luce cover an area less than 1600 hectares, with many of the smaller fragments of forest becoming increasingly isolated from larger remaining patches. This can spell disaster for small species, like the local Microcebus.sp mouse lemurs, who find it more difficult to move over large tracts of bare ground. If populations are restricted to increasingly smaller patches of habitat it increases the risk that these populations will go extinct. It can also lead to possible negative effects for the lemur populations. 

In addition, this process of fragmentation can also impact other lemur species that depend on substantial areas of high quality habitat to feed, shelter and reproduce. The increase in the percentage of forest ‘edges’ can also have damaging effects. The environmental conditions in these external areas of forest can lead to further degradation of the forest and leave it uninhabitable to some native species; for example through invasion of non-native species, more predators or parasites and greater levels of sunlight or higher wind speeds. 

The fear that these issues are present and accelerating in the forests of Ste Luce is ever present both for SEED Madagascar and local community who have management control of this valuable natural resource. As a result, SEED Madagascar is now launching a new project that aims to reconnect forest fragments in S8, one of the most affected parts of the reserve. The project has been named ‘Project Ala’, meaning forest in Malagasy. 

The project aims to restore connectivity of forest patches using habitat corridors planted with a mixture of fast growing and native tree species. In order to further develop the project, the SEED Madagascar conservation team visited the Mandena Biodiversity Research Centre only half an hours drive from the SEED office in Fort Dauphin. This site has been run by local biodiversity consultancy TBSE who have been undertaking long term trials looking at reforestation of environments virtually identical to deforested patches found in Sainte Luce.

The site boasts established acacia corridors planted more than 10 years ago which showcase how this species can be used to reclaim degraded areas and begin the process of reforestation. Research at Mandena looks at planting different combinations of native species within these corridors to see how well they establish, how they effect soil condition, moisture retention and interact with one another.

Established acacia corridors seen at Mandena
Established acacia corridors seen at Mandena
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A Sainte Luce mouse lemur
A Sainte Luce mouse lemur

Since the last update on Project Microcebus in January, we are thrilled to report that the genetic samples collected by the SEED Conservation and Research Programme (SCRP) have been successfully delivered to the German Primate Centre in Göttingen! Analysis is currently ongoing and results will be disseminated over the coming months. The whole team are very excited to finally discover the identity of the wonderful mouse lemurs that remain in this unique forest, and this data will contribute to the ongoing research conducted by SEED’s Executive Conservation Coordinator, Sam Hyde Roberts.

As this milestone for the project is reached, it is an important time to for the SEED team to reflect and evaluate its success. Tsiraiky, one of SCRP’s most experienced guides had this to say about the impact of Project Microcebus:

I studied to be a guide many years ago at university in Antananarivo and my specialist interest was always lemurs. When I first heard about this project I was really interested by the prospect of finding a new species in Sainte Luce and this is why I became involved.  This was a very difficult project to be involved with as catching the lemurs in Sainte Luce was very difficult. When the mouse lemurs are going to give birth they make a nest in a tree out of leaves and other debris from the forest. Once you manage to find one of these nests you shine a torch and when you see the eyes you know you have found a mouse lemur (rats make very similar looking nests). Catching the lemurs by hand is the most effective way but is still very difficult as they are extremely fast and have very sharp teeth. It was easier to do this as soon as it got dark, around 6:30, as they are waking up and are less alert than at other times.

It was really exciting to explain the research to the community and take part in the Club A sessions. The local community sometimes hunt and eat lemurs, especially the children so it was amazing to see how engaged the children were with the drawing completion and quiz. It also provided an opportunity to explain the importance of the conservation program and explain the local law (dina) which prohibits the killing of lemurs and can result in fines of 300,000 ariary. For me this project showed how important it is to collaborate, it brought together the local community, SEED Madagascar and the tourism sector.  It reminded me of a saying we have in Madagascar ‘iraiky iraiky faskia, fa miaraka atsika vato’ which means alone we are like grains of sand but together we are like stone, if we can work together we will be stronger.

Hearing from those involved in the project in this way and from other local people helps us to understand the impact that these projects can have on local communities. Unfortunately, time is running out for these beautiful forests and their incredible wildlife.

Habitat fragmentation is one of the leading causes of biodiversity loss globally. The Sainte Luce littoral forest is comprised of only 15 remaining fragments covering an area less than 1,600 hectares with many small fragments becoming isolated from large forest patches. As the last and largest remaining examples of this type of forest, halting and reversing this process, to prevent further fragmentation and reconnect isolated patches, is a major priority for the SCRP’s work.

While the team continue to study the mouse lemur populations across the remaining fragments of Sainte Luce littoral forest, this research will be vital to the development of a long-term strategy to safeguard the habitat for the mouse lemurs, alongside the numerous Endangered and endemic species of flora and fauna found in this remote corner of Madagascar.

Remaining fragments of the littoral forest
Remaining fragments of the littoral forest
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Cleopatra
Cleopatra

Over the the last three months, SEED Madagascar’s conservation research team have been working hard to catch five more mouse lemurs, three of which have been fitted with miniature radio tracking collars that weigh just three grams. Two of the mouse lemurs were still too small to have collars put on them, which cannot be more than 5% of the animal’s body weight. Up to date, eight mouse lemurs have now been collared. When we catch the mouse lemurs, lots of biological measurements are taken. These include sex, estimated age, weight, length and eye diameter. After the radio collars are fitted and measurements taken, we then safely release the mouse lemurs back into the forest.

The collars allow the researchers to follow the elusive, nocturnal mouse lemurs through the forest, track their movements and figure out where they sleep, eat and breed. Sam Roberts, SEED’s Executive Director of Conservation Research, has been out in the forest with expert Malagasy guides, on night-long transects to follow the tiny lemurs. This collected data helps SEED to estimate the population and distribution of the lemurs and therefore highlight which areas of the forest to prioritise protection. Data will continue to be collected to make a comprehensive final assessment on the population, distribution, ecology and habitat preference of the new mouse lemur species!

The genetic samples have been exported from Madagascar and are on their way to the Primate Genetics Laboratory, German Primate Centre in Göttingen, Germany to be genetically analysed and confirmed as a new species. Hopefully the results will be confirmed in time for an IUCN meeting in Antananarivo in April 2018 with the International Specialist Group for Lemurs, to announce the project findings and the discovery of a new species!

SEED sees youth education as a crucial part of successful and sustainable conservation work. Therefore, whilst SEED have been waiting for the exciting confirmation of the new mouse lemur species, the conservation team have focused some of the lessons in the free local Conservation Club on the mouse lemurs of Sainte Luce. The sessions included the appearance, ecology, habitat and threats faced by mouse lemurs. The conservation team also taught about the importance of connecting areas of forest together, to help mouse lemurs move easily through forest habitat and therefore reduce their extinction risk. The children had great fun doing a mouse lemur drawing competition, and showed they could recognise the new species.

Cleo in her natural habitat!
Cleo in her natural habitat!
Measuring our tiny friend!
Measuring our tiny friend!
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A mouse lemur sports its snazzy new collar!
A mouse lemur sports its snazzy new collar!

The past few months have been exciting times for SEED Madagascar’s research team as they continue their work on confirming a new species of mouse lemur in the forests of Sainte Luce!

Working with a new direct capture method, the team caught a total of 12 mouse lemurs who were then taken to the research centre to be measured and genetic samples taken from hair on the stomach and the tips of the ears.

These samples are currently awaiting export to the German Primate Center for analysis – the final step needed to confirm the mouse lemur as a new species after many months of research!

As well as confirming the new species, the team are also keen to understand more about the territory sizes, home ranges and ecological details of the species, such as social structure, activity schedules and feeding ecology. To do this, they fitted tiny radio tracking collars on eight of the captured mouse lemurs, making it easier to find them in the forest and data collection more efficient.

This research is key to confirming a new species and learning more about them, but it’s also important to improve understanding of the species’ wider distribution, and so they have been surveying the more remote forest fragments that together make up the Sainte Luce littoral forests. Although this is much more in the long term, the team have already confirmed the mouse lemur’s presence in 6 forest fragments as well as some of the tiny forest remnants which are now isolated from the main fragments. This will run alongside our ongoing research into population density data from three of the most important forest fragments.

The team have also been looking at establishing corridors to rejoin the fragments where the mouse lemurs are living and have been growing acacia seedlings in our on-site nursery to prepare them for replanting in four corridor sites between isolated fragments. These corridors will reconnect lemur habitats and allow them to move more easily between fragments, therefore reducing their risk of extinction.

We have a holistic approach to conservation and a crucial aspect of this project is community engagement and knowledge sharing. Project Microcebus has conducted a community meeting in Sainte Luce to talk about project progress, research findings and most significantly, the importance of forest conservation. The project has also included an education session to raise awareness of mouse lemurs amongst the younger generation in the local free conservation club. The session aimed at increasing the children’s understanding of the new species of mouse lemur and the importance of its conservation.

Hoby fits a mouse lemur with a radio collar
Hoby fits a mouse lemur with a radio collar
Holding a community meeting to talk about findings
Holding a community meeting to talk about findings
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Organization Information

SEED Madagascar

Location: London - United Kingdom
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @azafady
Project Leader:
Nick Lynch-Staunton
London, London United Kingdom

Funded Project!

Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
   

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