About the Laboratory for the Evolutionary Endocrinology of Primates (LEEP)
Our program generally focuses on primate research and conservation, with a focus on lemurs. We are concerned with how lemurs negotiate survival and reproduction in dynamic environments. The majority of our research is conducted with red-bellied lemurs (Eulemur rubriventer), but we are also involved in research with other species, such as the brown mouse lemur (Microcebus rufus), Milne-Edwards sifaka (Propithecus edwardsi), and Diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema).
Most work is conducted in Ranomafana National Park in southeastern Madagascar, but we also do work at Kianjavato and Tsinjoarivo with our collaborators.
Engaging with the local community
Adult male red-bellied lemur Atody with infant Ovy, showing off an example of allomaternal care. Photo by Pierre Lahitsara, as part of a face recognition project.
We engage directly with community members in several ways. We hire local experts to help us conduct our research. We train students and locals without formal education in scientific principles and date collection.
We collaborate with researchers and Centre ValBio staff on grant proposals and research. And we communicate our research at all stages through disseminating publications, giving presentations to officials, tourism guides, faculty, and students, and co-mentoring students.
The Lemur Conservation Biology working group at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover’s Institute of Zoology researches adaptation and evolution of lemurs, focusing on nocturnal lemurs.
About the Lemur Conservation Biology working group
Family group of Avahi occidentalis, Ankarafantsika National Park (photo: E. Zimmermann)
A major aim of the Lemur Conservation Biology working group of the Institute of Zoology (TiHo Hannover) is to increase understanding of the processes and mechanisms of adaptation and evolution of lemur.
Their work focuses on nocturnal lemurs, which are generally less studied than diurnal lemurs. In particular, they study the patterns, mechanisms, and consequences of intra- and inter-species variation in lemur behavior, bioacoustics, ecology, physiology and susceptibility for diseases. By combining this knowledge with an understanding of how habitat needs and habitat fragmentation impact the genetic diversity of populations, they can start to evaluate the viability and long-term survival of lemur populations. Two of their research programs are listed below.
More information about the working group’s larger conservation programming and how they engage with local communities can be found on their NGO profile page.
Conservation Biology and Environmental Flexibility of Lemurs in the Ankarafantsika National Park and the Mariarano forest (Project code: LemCon2)
Radiotelemetric localization of lemurs at night, Ankarafantsika National Park (photo: E. Zimmermann)
This program, which has been ongoing since 2003, takes place in the Ankarafantsika National Park and the Mariarano forest. This mosaic of habitat types offers many different ecological niches for lemurs and other forest dwelling organisms; knowledge of how lemurs survive in these different niches is still in its infancy, but urgently needed for conservation management.
The aim of this project is to investigate the biology of these species in these habitat types, including their vulnerability towards diseases. This knowledge will help to understand the environmental flexibility of species, how events such as climate change affect lemurs’ life history and long-term survival, and provide data for the long-term conservation management of lemurs in northwestern Madagascar.
Phylogeography and conservation genetics of nocturnal lemurs (Project code: LemCon4)
Microcebus ravelobensis, Ankarafantsika National Park (photo: U. Radespiel)
Since 2000, this project aims to understand the population structure of different lemur species across their habitat ranges in view of how drastically anthropogenic disturbances have impacted forests. Effective conservation requires detailed knowledge on how many individuals remain in the wild, the distribution of species, threats to their survival, and the degree to which individuals within a species differ (e.g., genetically). Ancient and recent processes of genetic differentiation shall be identified in order to develop effective conservation measures.
This research will help increase understanding of evolutionarily significant units and the management units in order to formulate long-term management plans.
About the Mention Anthropobiologique et développement durable
The Mention Anthropobiologie et Développement Durable (ADD) houses the unique, primatology laboratory at the University of Madagascar which contains both lemuroid subfossils and holotypes of living lemurs.
ADD’s main objectives are to:
provide training programs about primates,
undertake research endeavors, and
promote conservation efforts.
The academics and technicians associated with this program partner with institutions at the national and international level including with non-profits, community associations, and government entities.
ADD is key to improving the abilities of Malagasy university students and helping them become leaders in the field of conservation. This is important as conservation does not just stop with protecting lemurs, but needs to encompass education, awareness raising, and helping local communities take ownership of — and actively engage with — conservation programming.
As a result of ADD, students and alumni now work in many different agencies and institutions within the country. Looking forward, ADD aims to continue working towards programming that supports and promotes the work of researchers and conservationists in Madagascar in a sustainable way.
About the Babako Team in the Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology (DBIOS)
Starting in 2002, DBIOS promoted research projects on biodiversity and capacity building in Madagascar and Comoros, at the individual, institutional and social levels (see www.mad.unito.it).
Our projects center on increasing awareness of biodiversity and developing initiatives that empower communities to increase control over their lives and take a leading role in conservation of local biodiversity. In terms of our academic research, we focus primarily on improving our understanding of primate phonation and vocal abilities. In these efforts, we focus on the vocal communications of indris (Indri indri) and other diurnal prosimians.
Working with the Community
Understanding that conservation must have the participation and support of local people to be effective, we have worked on increasing community involvement and awareness, general education outreach, and enhancing the capacity of local conservation managers and guides.
Since 2008 our activities have focused on the primary forest of Maromizaha or “rainforest of the Dragon trees” (150 km east of Antananarivo and 6.5 km from the Analamazaotra Reserve). This forest is now managed by GERP (Groupe d’Etude et de Recherche sur les Primates de Madagascar) and we aim to increase effective management of this area, by cultivating positive and sustainable societal attitudes towards wildlife in the local communities.
We undertake this work both by establishing small programs and by implementing capacity-building activities. For example — and in order to increase awareness and develop education outreach programs in communities close to the forest — a multi-purpose centre was built that is just 40 minutes walking distance from the major highway that links Antananarivo to Toamasina.
The project reflects a strong international partnership led by the DBIOS in collaboration with the Department of Arboriculture and Pomology, both at the University of Torino, Italy, the University of Antananarivo (ESSA), GERP, the University of Toamasina (Gestion des Ressources Naturelles et Environnement – GRENE), the University of Comoros, and the Zoological Society of San Diego.
As part of the Lemur Conservation Action Plan, we are among the leading groups in charge of developing research and conservation in the recently established protected area of Tsitongambarika (south-east corner of Madagascar). This area, where no systematic research has been conducted so far, is considered one of the Action Plan priorities and one of the last large expanses of lowland rainforest left in Madagascar.
Since 1995, we have been studying the proximate and ultimate determinants of day-night activity (aka cathemeral activity) in true lemurs. This activity pattern is extremely rare among primates but common in lemurs, thus offering the unique opportunity to study the key transition between nocturnal and diurnal life during primate evolution.
The lemur species and field sites where we conducted our work on cathemeral activity are:
Eulemur collaris and Hapalemur meridionalis in the littoral forests of Mandena and Sainte Luce (Fort Dauphin);
Lemur catta and Eulemur hybrids in the gallery forest of Berenty (Fort Dauphin); and
Eulemur rufifrons in the dry forest of Kirindy (Morondava).
At the first two sites we have ongoing programs of research.
Studying How Lemurs Respond to Changes in Food Availability and Habitat
A second main stream of our research is focusing on lemur response to change in food availability and habitat disturbance. Since most forested areas in Madagascar have been modified by humans, understanding how lemurs respond to habitat disturbance and/or how they cope with new habitats is urgent. This response is investigated at various levels including thermoregulation, activity and ranging pattern, diet composition and nutritional ecology.
This work uses as a model the archipelago of fragments of the south-eastern littoral forest where the entire lemur community (Eulemur collaris; Hapalemur meridionalis; Avahi meridionalis; Cheirogaleus sp.; Microcebus sp.) has been studied since 1999.
Members of our research groups have also studied the behavioural ecology of Allocebus trichotis and Mirza zaza in Andasibe and Sahamalaza, respectively.
About Mitchell Irwin’s Work in Behavioral Ecology, Health and Conservation of Wild Primates
My research examines the ecology and behavior of lemurs in a range of habitat types (from highly disturbed fragments to relatively intact continuous forest) in Tsinjoarivo, eastern Madagascar.
One major focus of this research is improving our understanding of lemurs’ unique adaptations (compared to other primates), which might be linked to ecological conditions in Madagascar. The second major focus is examining lemurs’ range of habitat tolerances and their ecological and behavioral responses to habitat disturbance and fragmentation.
My main focus has been on the diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema) but other aspects of my research have focused on the lemur community and my group is expanding to focus on bamboo lemurs (Hapalemur griseus) and brown lemurs (Eulemur fulvus).
Research Supported by Sadabe
My research complements – and is facilitated by – Sadabe, an organization working in Madagascar.
The Perry lab studies lemur evolutionary ecology and the history of human-lemur interactions in Madagascar using genomic-based methods, including nuclear genome sequencing and analysis.
We also have an ancient DNA lab for sequencing the complete mitochondrial and even nuclear genomes of the recently extinct, giant ‘subfossil’ lemurs. These data are used to to reconstruct aspects of their behavioral ecology and to make conservation-minded comparisons to the surviving lemur species.
Finally, as a complement to our lemur work, we have initiated population genomic studies of the people of Madagascar in order to describe the pattern and rate of the population size increase and better characterize the interesting origin and evolutionary history of the Malagasy. Several of these projects are led by graduate students at the University of Antananarivo.