My research is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and University of Toronto. Much of my current research focuses on the conservation biogeography and landscape ecology of South American and Madagascar primates (click on the TREE tab to learn more). Conservation biogeography is the application of biogeographical principles, theories, and analyses, being those concerned with the distributional dynamics of taxa individually and collectively, to problems concerning the conservation of biodiversity (Whittaker et al., 2005). In my research, I seek to determine how specific present-day and historic factors affect the distribution and diversity of primates. Towards this end, I have conducted research on primates in Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and Madagascar. For example, I conducted one of the first studies of primate biogeography in Guyana. Guyana is unique in that it retains approximately 75% of its original forest cover. Moreover, Guyana is one of the last places in South America where you can regularly see big cats, such as jaguars and ocelots; giant river otters; and manatees. I used surveys, geographic information systems, and remote sensing to document the varied distribution and diversity of eight primate species in Guyana. I found that the biogeography of each species is due to a complicated pattern of present-day (e.g., habitat diversity and the distribution of important food resources) and historic factors (e.g., riverine barriers to dispersal).

In 1998, I began a research program on the conservation biology of lemurs in the forests of Madagascar, an island famous for its endemic plants and animals. The first phase of my program was a collaborative effort with researchers from ICTE at SUNY-Stony Brook on the critically endangered Perrier's sifakas (Propithecus perrieri). Only 500-1000 of these lemurs exist in the wild. We were the first researchers ever to locate, habituate, and collect detailed behavioral and ecological data on Perrier's sifakas (see picture to left of male Perrier's sifaka eating ficus fruit). These data are being used to test a number of hypotheses on lemur behavior and ecology.

The 2nd phase of my research program was to conduct a series of RAPs (Rapid Assessment Projects) in some of the last unexplored jungle in eastern Madagascar. This research focused primarily on the Fandriana-Marolambo forest corridor. We worked very closely with a local NGO called MICET (Malagasy Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments) on all projects in the corridor. The data were collected by a team of mammologists, botanists, herpetologists, and ornithologists with the goal of setting up a new protected area in eastern Madagascar. I am pleased to report that our RAP data have been used to begin the process for creating a new national park within the forest corridor.

In the 3rd phase of my research program, the TREE team and I are looking at how forest loss, forest fragmentation, and edge effects influence lemur ecology in Madagascar. The long-term objectives of this research program are to study the independent effects of forest loss and fragmentation on primates at the landscape scale in Madagascar and to provide Canadian and international students with research and training opportunities in tropical ecology. Current research projects are focused on the conservation biogeography of plant and primate communities at the new Ambanjabe Forest Fragment Project (AFFP), located in the western region of Ankarafantsika National Park, NW Madagascar. The AFFP is a multidisciplinary investigation of mammal diversity and abundance, lemur population genetics, and community conservation in a fragmented landscape of 42 forest fragments.

© 2019 Shawn M. Lehman