It’s getting tighter for the great apes

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Whether chimpanzee, bonobo or gorilla: African great apes are already seriously threatened. But it gets worse: According to researchers, a combination of climate change, land use changes and population pressure could reduce primates’ habitats by 85 to 92 percent over the next 30 years. For the long-term protection of the population, previous protective measures are therefore not sufficient.

Scientists have been sounding the alarm for a long time: many great apes are on the verge of extinction due to poaching and loss of their habitats. In addition, climate change and related changes in weather patterns and precipitation are also altering the primates’ natural habitats. This may have accelerated their downfall. Ten years ago, chimpanzees were predicted to lose 50 percent of their habitat to climate change and 75 percent to gorillas.

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According to the current state of knowledge, an international team of researchers led by Joanna Carvalho of Liverpool John Moores University has now investigated how the condition of primates may have evolved. For their analysis, they first quantified the total impact of changes in climate, land use and population numbers in the distribution regions of African great apes for the year 2050. In addition, they used data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature. of Nature (IUCN) on the simultaneous occurrence of approximately 5,200 African great apes. They provide information on population status, threats and protective measures over the past 20 years.

In their forecasts, the research team took into account the best and worst with respect to climate protection. “A best case means that carbon emissions are gradually falling and appropriate measures are taken to stop them,” explains Jessica Junker from the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig. “Worst case scenario assumes that emissions will continue to rise uncontrollably.”

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move or die

Modeling showed: Although the two landscapes differ in their impacts, they both cause massive loss of habitat for the African great apes. Under “best-case scenarios,” primates will lose about 85 percent of their range in the next few years, with about half of these areas outside national parks and other legally protected areas. In a worst-case scenario, forecasts also showed habitat loss of 94 percent, of which 61 percent is due to vulnerable areas.

For chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos this means: If they want to survive, they have to adapt and leave their traditional range. Because of climate change, the forests they inhabit are becoming more dry and warmer and the vegetation is changing. To still find enough food and gold trees, they would have to move to colder areas – for example, in the highlands. According to scientists, those that have this option can survive, and even increase their range by 20 to 50 percent, depending on the species and landscape.

Previous protected areas are not enough

The problem, however, is that not all large ape populations have this option – for example because their surroundings have cooler refuges or because the vegetation there does not change according to their nutritional needs. It is therefore more important to take protective measures to secure suitable habitat for our closest relatives: “The fact that the greatest loss of range should be expected outside protected areas clearly shows that protected areas in Africa The current network of areas to preserve the habitats of the great apes are still insufficient to effectively connect the great ape populations,” Carvalho says.

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The research team therefore seeks to plan effective conservation strategies for each primate species, taking into account existing and proposed protected areas. Housing suitability models can help here. In addition, they believe that maintaining and establishing links and corridors between habitats will be critical to the survival of the African great apes. According to the research team, land use planning and climate change mitigation measures urgently need to be integrated into the government policy of countries where great apes live.

Source: German Center for Integrated Biodiversity Research, Article: Diversity and Distribution, DOI: 10.1111/ddi.13358

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