Historical demography of a wild lemur population (Propithecus verreauxi) in southwest Madagascar
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The human colonization of Madagascar is associated with the extinction of numerous lemur species. However, the degree to which humans have negatively influenced the historical population dynamics of extant lemur species is not well understood. This study employs genetic and demographic analyses to estimate demographic parameters relating to the historical population dynamics of a wild lemur population, Verreaux’s sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi). The genetic analyses are used to determine whether this population experienced a historically recent (i.e., within the last 2000 years) population bottleneck, as well as to estimate the historical population growth rate and the timing of any changes in population size in the past. In addition, a retrospective demographic analysis is used to determine sources of variation and covariation in the sifaka life cycle and how variation in life-cycle transitions contributes to variation in population growth rate. The genetic analyses indicate that the sifaka population did not experience a recent population bottleneck; however, the historical population growth rate was negative, indicating that the ancestral population size was much larger than the current size. The timing of the ancestral population decline has a point estimate of 2300 years ago, but with large credible intervals: 3611–1736 years ago. This point estimate corresponds with the first evidence for human arrival to Madagascar. Climatic variation has also likely influenced past (and current) population dynamics due to stochastic annual rainfall patterns and climatic desiccation, the latter of which began in southwestern Madagascar around 4000 years ago. Variation in the survival of 2-year-old animals as well as large adult females makes the largest contribution to variation in population growth rate. In the absence of more explicit models pertaining to historical population dynamics, it is difficult to attribute the negative population growth rate of this species solely to a single factor (e.g., hunting, habitat destruction).