Habitat Degradation and Seasonality Affect Physiological Stress Levels of Eulemur collaris in Littoral Forest Fragments.
PLoS ONE 9(9): e107698. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0107698
The littoral forest on sandy soil is among the most threatened habitats in Madagascar and, as such, it represents a hot-spot within a conservation hot-spot. Assessing the health of the resident lemur fauna is not only critical for the long-term viability of these populations, but also necessary for the future re-habilitation of this unique habitat. Since the Endangered collared brown lemur, Eulemur collaris, is the largest seed disperser of the Malagasy south-eastern littoral forest its survival in this habitat is crucial. In this study we compared fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (fGCM) levels, a measure of physiological stress and potential early indicator of population health, between groups of collared brown lemurs living in a degraded forest fragment and groups occurring in a more preserved area. For this, we analysed 279 fecal samples collected year-round from 4 groups of collared brown lemurs using a validated 11-oxoetiocholanolone enzyme immunoassay and tested if fGCM levels were influenced by reproductive stages, phenological seasons, sex, and habitat degradation. The lemurs living in the degraded forest had significantly higher fGCM levels than those living in the more preserved area. In particular, the highest fGCM levels were found during the mating season in all animals and in females during gestation in the degraded forest. Since mating and gestation are both occurring during the lean season in the littoral forest, these results likely reflect a combination of ecological and reproductive pressures. Our findings provide a clear indication that habitat degradation has additive effects to the challenges found in the natural habitat. Since increased stress hormone output may have long-term negative effects on population health and reproduction, our data emphasize the need for and may add to the development of effective conservation plans for the species.