Stress Is Killing These Teeny Lemurs, and The Story Is In Their Hair

Ban Panko in Smithsonian:

LemurWith their small furry bodies and large inquisitive eyes, gray mouse lemurs can seem like a cross between a pug and an alien. In fact, these Madagascar primates share much in common with us. For one, they feel mounting stress as their forest habitat is destroyed—and new research shows how living under constant pressure can hurt their survival. Mouse lemurs are a subgroup of lemurs that boast the title of smallest primates on Earth. The gray mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus), which measures in at just under a foot from nose to tail and weighs around two ounces, is the largest species within that group. It's currently considered to be a species of "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "Red List," but the organization does note that the population of gray mouse lemurs is declining due largely to habitat loss.

Overall, Madagascar's dozens of lemur species have long faced threats from deforestation and hunting by humans. "It's well known that this species is under very high pressure from anthropogenic activities and habitat loss," Josué Rakotoniaina, an ecologist at Germany's Georg-August University of Göttingen, says of his choice to scrutinize these petite primates in particular. "But there was no study of how those human activities can affect these animals ecologically." Mouse lemurs are proving surprisingly useful to scientists studying human diseases, thanks to their conveniently small size (about double the size of a mouse, with a tail up to twice the length of their body) and genetic similarity to us (they’re primates, like us and unlike mice). In recent years, scientists have found that they make the perfect model for looking at obesity, eye disease and even neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

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