The stresses of warming temperatures and forest losses are driving dozens of species of monkeys and lemurs that normally shelter and feed high in the tree canopy to spend more time foraging on the forest floor.
As global warming accelerates and deforestation and wildfires spread, those primates less advantaged for such a transition will be increasingly imperiled.
“They’re not going to be able to live for long,” said Eppley, lead author of the study .That could compound ecological challenges in vulnerable forest habitats, because animals such as lemurs play an important role dispersing tree seeds. “Once you get rid of the lemurs, there’s this whole cascade effect.”
The warmer the climate and the sparser the tree cover at any given site, the more likely the animals were to descend to the ground.
It’s a relatively common evolutionary transition among primates, though what the researchers observed appears different.
“What we’re seeing now is largely anthropogenically induced,” Eppley said. “This is happening so fast.”