Classroom Discussion Activity

Lemurs of Madagascar: Surviving on an Island of Change

When humans first set foot on Madagascar 2,300 years ago, there were 70 species of lemurs living in the island’s verdant forests. Over time, logging and agriculture cleared the forests, leaving the island with a bare interior and just two strips of forest on the coasts. As their habitats dwindled, many species of lemurs became extinct; others became endangered.

Class Discussion

Establish prior Knowledge
Ask students what they know about the island of Madagascar. If necessary, have them locate it on a map. Tell students that until about 2,000 years ago, humans did not live on the island of Madagascar, but since arriving have changed the landscape drastically. Ask students to consider what effect rapid habitat change can have on native animals.

Have students watch the video and read the feature story, “Lemurs of Madagascar: Surviving on an Island of Change.” Use the following questions to guide a class discussion:
• Why is Madagascar such a good placeto study evolution and habitat change?
• What changing conditions has led to some species of lemurs becoming extinct.
• Why are lemurs with more specialized diets more vulnerable to habitat change? How is having a more general diet helpful for survival?
• What is habitat fragmentation andwhat are researchers trying to do to prevent it?
• What is adaptive radiation and how has it led to the survival of some lemur species?

Use the following questions to wrap up your discussion:
• What are some other areas of the world that are experiencing rapid habitat change?
• What species in those areas are threatened?

Students who wish to learn more about the animals of Madagascar can visit these related links from NASA:
Earth Observatory: Uncovering Chameleons

Learn about Madagascar’s rich and unique biodiversity, and the efforts being made to preserve it.
Earth Observatory: The Human Footprint

Data on land cover is an important tool in understanding the spread of life on Earth. See how scientists are learning about the impact of human development on the land.
Scientists Use Satellites and Museum Collections to Locate Lizards in Madagascar

See how a computer model is helping scientists predict species distribution in Madagascar.
Earth Observatory: New Tools for Conservation

Examine the various tools and techniques of observing and tracking habitats.
Windows to the Universe: Ecosystems

Get an overview of ecosystems from the National Corporation for Atmospheric Research Windows to the Universe website.