The Unequal Climate Challenges for Smaller Primates

thick tailed bush baby or greater galago, otolemur crassicaudatus, adult standing on branch

Size Matters: New Study Reveals How Tiny Primates Struggle More With Climate Change Than Their Larger Cousins (Credit:

by | May 24, 2024

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A recently published study led by primatologist Michelle Sauther of the University of Colorado Boulder has shed light on climate adaptation challenges faced by two closely related primate species. Often referred to as bush babies, Sauther’s team investigated how the body size of the thick-tailed greater galago and the southern lesser galago impacts their species behavior in response to fluctuating temperatures.

Tracking the galagos for over 75 nights using thermal imaging cameras, researchers identified distinct survival strategies revealing that small primates like the lesser galago face greater challenges adapting to a changing climate. Unlike their larger counterparts, which can store body fat and remain inactive during extreme weather, the smaller galagos must forage continuously, even in adverse conditions, due to their high metabolic needs. This leaves them particularly vulnerable to rising temperatures and habitat degradation.

Contextualizing the Findings: Behavior and Habitat

The thick-tailed greater galago is the largest of its genus, weighing up to 4.4 pounds, and is primarily arboreal, relying on tree gums as a key food source. They generally inhabit high-canopy, wet savannahs, woodlands, and riverine forests with adequate rainfall and canopy cover. On the other hand, the southern lesser galago is significantly smaller, weighing under 9 ounces. With a metabolism requiring constant feeding, they actively forage for tree gum, insects, and fruits throughout the year. The study highlights their increasing vulnerability to climate change, habitat loss, and other human-induced pressures. Expanding road networks, illegal pet trade, and habitat fragmentation pose significant challenges for both primates.

Conservation Implications and Future Research

Sauther’s research emphasizes the critical need for focused conservation efforts to protect small, nocturnal primates facing habitat fragmentation and climate shifts, calling for targeted strategies to protect these primates, including habitat connectivity and enhanced monitoring of population trends. Efforts should minimize human-induced pressures, expand protected areas, and support further research on behavioral adaptations in response to climate variability. Collaboration among international conservation organizations, local authorities, and research institutions will be crucial in safeguarding these unique primates and preventing further regional biodiversity loss.


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