1Department of Anatomy, Dartmouth Medical School, 2Department of Anthropology, Dartmouth College, 3Department of Zoology, The Field Museum of Natural History, 4Vahatra, Madagascar
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Priority areas for conservation are usually identified by species distributions. Since most biodiversity remains poorly studied, a subset of charismatic species, such as primates, are often used as surrogates for total biodiversity. A central question is therefore, how effectively do primates predict the pooled species richness of other mammalian taxa? We used lemurs as indicator species to predict total non-primate mammal community richness in the forest ecosystems of Madagascar.
We collected species lists of endemic terrestrial mammals for 34 mammalian communities from 30 forested areas. To account for spatial autocorrelation and as a proxy for environmental variables, we used WWF’s ecoregional classification of Madagascar’s natural habitats. Two sets of predictor variables were entered hierarchically into a regression analysis: ecoregion, and lemur species richness. Our results indicated that 86% of the variation in total non-primate mammal community richness was explained by ecoregion and lemur species richness together. The majority of this variation was accounted for by ecoregion alone, while the unique contribution of lemur species richness net of ecoregion was 5.2% (F = 9.705, df = 28, 27, p < 0.01). When individual fauna components were examined, the predictive relationship for carnivoran and rodent species richness was significant. Lemur species richness did not significantly contribute to the regression model for afrosoricid richness.
We conclude that habitat type is a pragmatic basis for the assessment of mammal conservation priorities in Madagascar. Lemurs effectively predict total non-primate community richness. However, complete representation of biodiversity cannot be achieved through surrogate species alone.