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Sheila Holmes

Sheila Holmes
I study the impacts of conservation and restoration on sustainable development, for example climate action, biodiversity conservation, and human livelihoods. I also examine how humans shape ecological conditions and how this affects animal behaviour and population and community dynamics. I focus on bird and mammal communities in Madagascar's humid forest and woodland.


International collaboration is at the heart of both my research and teaching. 

I run a module on international wildlife management in the Master's level course BI1299: Fish and Wildlife Management. Students work closely with partners at Nelson Mandela University to compare management of European and South African wildlife, and also hear about wildlife management in other countries from the managers themselves. 

I am currently developing a new PhD course in collaboration with several partners at GCUA universities. The GCUA 2030 Climate Action Challenge is a unique, problem-based learning course that gives students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience designing Nature-based Solutions, synergising Sustainable Development Goals while considering intersectionality, and working in an intercultural and interdisciplinary context.(



Wildlife and Global Change

In Rewilding Madagascar, my collaborators and I examine the impact of animal seed dispersers on carbon storage, biodiversity, and human livelihoods in reforested areas of Madagascar’s humid forests, and link these to reforestation context and practices. To achieve this, we are combining camera traps and acoustic monitoring to determine which, if any, seed dispersing fauna are using humid forest restoration areas, and what factors are linked to their presence. We will then model the potential impact of seed dispersal by native birds, bats, and lemurs on the tree composition of regenerating areas. We will use data we are collecting on tree traits and provisioning ecosystem services to determine the relative carbon storage, livelihood value, and biodiversity of these simulated forests. This project is one I feel very strongly about as I and my students and collaborators work to synergize sustainable development goals by promoting the ecosystem services provided by wildlife.    

In Faunal Activities for Climate Action (FACA), we are adding Madagascar to the SEOSAW network ( by establishing long-term plots to monitor the response of the now rare Malagasy woodlands to global change. We are also forming a sub-network with partners in Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and Madagascar and collaborators in the UK, Sweden, and the Netherlands to examine the relationship between animal and plant diversity in woodlands (including how anthropogenic land use impacts this relationship), and to improve our understanding of ecosystem function and the links between animal seed dispersers and pollinators and carbon storage in Southern African woodland ecosystems. 


Climate and population performance

I originally came to SLU as a postdoctoral researcher, investigating how climatic variation influences ungulate population performance in Sweden. As climatic averages shift, we will also see more frequent and intense episodes of temperature and precipitation extremes.

In this project, we found a relationship between weather and calf weight and first summer recruitment of the culturally and economically important moose.  Using long-term and, in some cases, publically available datasets of recorded weather, plant phenology and chemical composition, and ungulate observations and measurements, we found that calves are negatively impacted by hot, dry springs and snowy winters, and that temperature impacts calves both directly, through thermoregulation costs, and indirectly, through food quality reduction. Temperatures above the biological threshold for open-mouthed panting have a particularly strong direct relationship to moose calf mass. 


Behavioural ecology

Prior to coming to Sweden, I spent over a decade managing a lemur ecology and conservation research program in southeastern Madagascar.  This program is a collaboration between the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership, University of Calgary, and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.  Situated in a recently deforested area, the site is home to a large community conservation and reforestation program, also run by the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership. My research focused on behavioural ecology and genetics of black-and-white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata), red-fronted lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons), and red-bellied lemurs (Eulemur rubriventer). 


Current PhD Students

Mino Rakotovao, Department of Plant Biology and Ecology, University of Antananarivo (Daily supervisor)

Mahefa Andriamavosoloarisoa, Department of Plant Biology and Ecology, University of Antanarivo (Daily supervisor)

Selected publications

Holmes SM, Dressel S, Morel J, Spitzer R, Ball JP, Ericsson G, Singh NJ, Widemo F, Cromsigt JPGM, Danell K. 2023.Increased summer temperature is associated with reduced calf mass of a circumpolar large mammal through direct thermoregulatory and indirect, food quality, pathways. Oecologia.

Eppley T et al. [118 co-authors including Holmes SM]. 2022. Descending from the trees: Factors favoring transitions to terrestriality in primates of Madagascar and the Americas. PNAS 119:e2121105199.

McManus N, Holmes SM, Louis EE Jr., Johnson SE, Baden AL, Amato KR. 2021. The gut microbiome as an indicator of habitat disturbance in a Critically Endangered lemur. BMC Ecology and Evolution 21:222. DOI: 10.1186/s12862-021-01945-z

Borgerson C, Johnson SE, Hall E, Brown KA, Narvaez-Torres PR, Rasolofoniaina BJR, Razafindrapaoly BN, Merson SD, Thompson KET, Holmes SM, Louis EE, Golden CD. 2021. A national-level assessment of lemur hunting pressure in Madagascar. International Journal of Primatology 43:92-113 (2022). DOI: 10.1007/s10764-021-00215-5

Holmes SM, Cromsigt JPGM, Danell K, Ericsson G, Singh N, Widemo F. 2021. Declining recruitment and mass of Swedish moose calves linked to hot, dry springs and snowy winters. Global Ecology and Conservation 27:e01594. DOI: 10.1016/j.gecco.2021.e01594

Razanatsoa E, Andriantsaralaza S, Holmes SM, Ratsifandrihamanana AN, Randriamiharisoa L, Ravaloharimanitra M, Ramahefamanana N, Tahirinirainy D, Raharimampionona J. 2021. Fostering local involvement for biodiversity conservation in tropical regions: Lessons from Madagascar during the COVID-19 pandemic. Biotropica 53:994-1003. DOI: 10.1111/btp.12967 

Morelli TL, Smith AB, Mancini AN, Balko EA, Borgerson C, Dolch R, Farris Z, Federman S, Golden CD, Holmes SM, Irwin M, Jacobs RL, Johnson S, King T, Lehman SM, Louis EE Jr., Murphy A, Randriahaingo HNT, Randrianarimanana HLL, Ratsimbazafy J, Razafindratsima OH, Baden AL. 2020. The fate of Madagascar’s rainforest habitat. Nature Climate Change 10:89-96. DOI:10.1038/s41558-019-0647-x

Baden AL, Mancini AN, Federman S, Holmes SM, Johnson SE, Kamilar J, Louis Jr. EE, Bradley BJ. 2019. Anthropogenic pressures drive population genetic structuring across a Critically Endangered lemur species range. Scientific Reports 9: 16276. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-52689-2

Holmes SM, Louis Jr. EE, Johnson SE. 2019. Range overlap and spatiotemporal relationships of frugivorous lemurs at Kianjavato, Madagascar. Animal Behaviour 155:53-65. DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2019.06.025

Holmes SM, Louis Jr. EE, Johnson SE. 2019. Lemurs in fragmented forests: a conservation and research collaboration. In: A Behie, J Teichroeb, N Malone (Eds.). Primate Research and Conservation in the Anthropocene (pp.165-181). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781316662021.010

Borgerson C, Johnson SE, Louis Jr. EE, Holmes SM, Anjaranirina EJG, Randriamady HJ, Golden CD. 2018. The use of natural resources to improve household income, health, and nutrition within the forests of Kianjavato, Madagascar. Madagascar Conservation & Development 13: 9 pages. DOI: 10.4314/mcd.v13i1.6.

Holmes SM, Gordon AD, Louis Jr. EE, Johnson SE. 2016. Fission-fusion dynamics in black-and-white ruffed lemurs may facilitate both feeding strategies and communal care of infants in a spatially and temporally variable environment. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 70(11):1949-1960. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-016-2201-4.

Baden AL, Holmes SM, Johnson SE, Engberg SE, Louis Jr. EE, Bradley BJ. 2014. Species-level view of population structure and gene flow for a critically endangered primate (Varecia variegata). Ecology and Evolution 4(13):2675-2692. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.1119. 

Holmes SM, Baden AL, Brenneman RA, Engberg SE, Louis Jr. EE, Johnson SE. 2013. Patch size and isolation influence genetic patterns in black-and-white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) populations. Conservation Genetics 14(3):615-624. DOI: 10.1007/s10592-013-0455-1.

Brown KA, Johnson SE, Parks K, Holmes SM, Ivoandry T, Abram NK, Delmore KE, Ludovic R, Andriamaharoa HE, Wyman TM, Wright PC. 2013. Use of provisioning ecosystem services drives loss of functional traits across land use intensification gradients in tropical forests in Madagascar. Biological Conservation 161:118-127.