Using biophysical modelling to map the mechanisms of extinction in a nocturnal lemur

Ms Eleanor  Stalenberg1, Professor Joerg Ganzhorn3, Professor Andrew Krockenberger2, Professor William Foley1

1Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, 2Division of Research and Innovation, James Cook University , Cairns, Australia, 3Animal Ecology and Conservation, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany


Understanding the impacts of environmental change on wildlife will require an integrated approach that draws together different disciplines and exploits new innovations. Biophysical mechanistic models have emerged as key tools for trait-based species conservation management. Mechanistic models apply fundamental principles to predict animals’ energetic requirements and provide insights into underlying drivers of distribution change and species vulnerability to future climate change.

Madagascar supports 23% of the world’s primate diversity, however all species are at risk from a range of threats, including climate change. Biophysical models may provide important insights into the ecology of lemurs and other primates and assist in conservation.

We have developed and validated a biophysical mechanistic model for the lemur genus Lepilemur from our empirical case study of L. leucopus at Berenty, southern Madagascar. The model operates in an interactive framework to map habitat suitability across Madagascar using current and historical climate data and to map the predicted risk of extinction in the face of future climatic change.

Our interactive model enables users to simulate the physiological and ecological response of Lepilemur to environmental stressors or to changes in biology and enables effective scientific communication and engagement. The model suggests climate changes that have occurred in Madagascar over the 20th Century have reduced the habitat suitability for L. leucopus within their current geographic range. Further insights from the model can be used to inform targeted conservation management, such as to identify habitat resources that are critical for survival and highlight places of conservation priority.


Eleanor Stalenberg is a PhD candidate at the Research School of Biology, Australian National University (ANU) with collaborations in the Fenner School of ANU, James Cook University, Hamburg University and the Université d’Antananarivo.

Eleanor’s research examines the environmental drivers of the physiology, behaviour, nutrition and ecology of mammalian herbivores with the aim to better assess species vulnerability to environmental change and to tailor conservation efforts accordingly. Her PhD research applies mechanistic approaches to predict the response of primates to climate change, focussing on the white-footed sportive lemur in the far south of Madagascar.

Eleanor spent 7 years working in applied conservation research and GIS in Australia before returning to the ANU to undertake her post graduate studies. She has undertaken field research in Australia, New Zealand, Uganda and Madagascar. Eleanor’s PhD research is supported by grants from the German research foundation (DFG) and Conservation International.

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