We present a summary of a long-term field study that examined the effects of forest disturbance on the availability of palatable fruit and its utilization by V. variegata. Forest structure and tree species composition were measured in three adjacent study areas, with different histories of disturbance, in Ranomafana National Park (RNP), Madagascar. V. variegata abundance was monitored by frequent encounters with resident groups and periodic censuses conducted along trails. Finally, the abundance of mature fruit in species used by V. variegata was scored monthly at representative trees at several locations. V. variegata abundance was most consistent in the least anthropogenically disturbed site, while no established lemur groups were observed in the heavily logged site for over a decade post-harvest. Lemur abundance was variable in the selectively logged site. The presence of select food trees, particularly specimens with voluminous crowns capable of producing abundant fruit crops, appears to be key to the establishment and expansion of V variegata groups. Our analysis of year-long fruit utilization revealed a high degree of preference for several species of trees. Two species exhibited mature fruit in a low percentage of stems but were available for a protracted period of time, while two additional species showed high intraspecific fruiting synchrony and were available for a shorter period of time. These contrasting phenologies, rather than the individual tree species, may be most important to V. variegata due to their coincident timing of fruit maturation with key lemur life-history events. Any disturbance-natural or anthropogenic-that disrupts the phenology cycles of food trees has the potential to impact lemur abundance and dispersion. Intense disturbances, such as heavy logging or severe cyclones, have long-lasting impacts on fruit production, while selective logging or moderate cyclonic windthrow cause more transient impacts. V. variegata is adapted to deal with an intrinsically erratic food supply by virtue of its reproductive biology and social behavior.
Additional publication details
Effects of forest structure and composition on food availability for Varecia variegata at Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar