Consequences of Lemur Loss for Above-Ground Carbon Stocks in a Malagasy Rainforest

Abstract

Anthropogenic disturbances have resulted in declines of seed-dispersing primate frugivores in tropical forests. Previous work has suggested that loss of seed dispersal by large frugivores may have a negative impact on ecosystem carbon storage by reducing tree biomass. However, we know little about the potential impacts of losing frugivores in Madagascar’s diverse rainforest ecosystem. Understanding the effects of frugivore extinction on carbon loss is relevant in Madagascar, where threatened lemur taxa are the only dispersers of many large-seeded plant species. Using a dataset of tree species composition and traits from the southeastern rainforests of Ranomafana National Park, we examined whether seed size and lemur-dependent dispersal are positively associated with above-ground tree biomass. We then simulated different scenarios of population declines of large-seeded trees (>10 mm seed length) dependent on lemur-mediated seed dispersal, to examine potential directional changes in carbon storage capacity of Malagasy forests under lemur loss. Lemur-dispersed tree species, which have large seeds, had higher above-ground biomass than other species. Our simulations showed that the loss of large frugivorous primates in Madagascar may decrease the forest’s potential to store carbon. These results demonstrate the importance of primate conservation for maintaining functioning ecosystems and forest carbon stocks in one of the world’s hottest hotspots of biodiversity.

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Acknowledgements

We thank numerous field research technicians for their valuable help in data collection and species identification. Part of the data used in this publication were provided by the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network, a collaboration between Conservation International, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, and partially funded by these institutions, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and other donors. We also thank Yamato Tsuji and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments that improved an earlier version of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Onja H. Razafindratsima.

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Razafindratsima, O.H., Gentles, A., Drager, A.P. et al. Consequences of Lemur Loss for Above-Ground Carbon Stocks in a Malagasy Rainforest. Int J Primatol 39, 415–426 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-018-0042-x

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Keywords

  • Above-ground biomass
  • Conservation
  • Extinction
  • Primate
  • Seed dispersal
  • Tropical forest