Deforestation threatens to wipe out a primate melting pot in Indonesia

JAKARTA — An evolutionary crucible in Indonesia that’s given rise to a unique array of primates found nowhere else on Earth is at risk of disappearing due to rapid deforestation, a new study warns. The island of Sulawesi lies in the Wallacea biogeographical region, where the native fauna are distinct from the better-known wildlife — such as orangutans, rhinos and tigers — found in the western half of Indonesia. While the latter region was once part of the Southeast Asian landmass when sea levels were lower, thus sharing much of the same biodiversity, Sulawesi has always been isolated from the mainland, which has allowed the wildlife there to evolve in unique and striking ways. It’s a haven in particular for primates: all 17 species of macaques (Macaca spp.) and tarsiers (Tarsius spp.) found there are endemic to the island. But these evolutionary marvels are under threat from the accelerating loss of their pristine habitat. Sulawesi for a long time managed to avoid the industrial-scale deforestation that ravaged the islands of Sumatra and Borneo for oil palm plantations and coal mines. But as land and resources are depleted in western Indonesia, developers are turning increasingly to the relatively untouched islands of the country’s east, including Sulawesi and Papua. “Although not yet as severe or dramatic as deforestation rates in Sumatra, drivers of deforestation in Sulawesi are increasing in intensity,” a group of researchers from Indonesia and Australia write in a recent paper. Published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation, the…This article was originally published on Mongabay
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