Madagascar & the Mascarenes


Madagascar is renowned for its high levels of endemism; about 8,000 plant species are thought to be unique to the island. This, combined with threats to the remaining native forests, puts Madagascar among the highest conservation priorities in the world.

In response to the Convention on Biological Diversity ('Earth Summit') a conservation strategy will be implemented in Madagascar as part of the island's Environmental Action Plan. Presently the flora is too poorly known to do more than make recommendations that protect recognised sites of a few well-known species. So at Kew, in a project funded by the Weston Family, Dr David Du Puy and Justin Moat are using GIS technology to see how conservation recommendations can be made, and scientifically supported, to ensure a maximum protection for biodiversity.

Fieldwork showed that forests over different underlying geology support different ranges of species. Thus a map of the remaining primary vegetation (derived from satellite images) was overlaid on one showing geology to produce a detailed map of remaining vegetation classified according to the rock type it occurs on. The resulting vegetation categories are indicators of plant biodiversity and if each category is protected then it is likely that the maximum of plant diversity will also be protected. To see how much (if any) of each type of forest was protected, the revised vegetation map was overlaid on a map of parks and reserves. Histograms generated from this analysis immediately showed which forest types are inadequately represented in the current system of protected areas, and where intact areas suitable for conservation still exist. Widespread forest types with little protection are priority areas for conservation.

Preliminary results were presented at a recent workshop held in Antananarivo, where recommendations of priority areas for biodiversity conservation were strongly influenced by the maps and graphical data produced. These recommendations will be submitted to a sister meeting of politicians and decision-makers later this year, and will also strongly influence the selection of 11 new reserves, aiming to site them in habitats not currently covered by the existing series of protected areas, and therefore to include as much of the island's biodiversity as possible.

Databases of palm, legume and orchid specimens are being used to indicate localised centres of species endemism, also important when considering conservation priorities. An orchid checklist is being compiled to provide sound identifications for the database. Comparisons with the vegetation map will highlight distribution patterns and species indicative of the various forest types.

Cymbidiella humblotii, an orchid that only grows on Raffia palms in lowland E. Madagascar.

Contact: Dr David Du Puy (0181-332 5237)

Growing Orchids for Conservation

Madagascar's unique wild orchids are being collected and exported, often illegally, for international trade. Orchid seedlings are being raised at Kew, in a project funded by the Weston Family, which will reduce this trade by providing growers with a legitimate source of 'wild' plants.

Phaius francoisii, one of over 1000 orchid species unique ti Madagascar, many of which are showy and potentially valuable in horticulture

There are now about 100 Malagasy orchid species growing in the Micropropagation Unit at Kew, all raised from seed collected in the wild. The first batches of orchid seedlings are now being sent back to the Parc de Tsimbazaza, Madagascar's Botanic Garden, where they will be grown on until large enough for sale abroad. The foreign currency earned will undoubtedly encourage local politicians to take more interest in conservation issues. Tsimbazaza will receive the sale proceeds to make the project self-financing and to assist its conservation projects. It is intended to reintroduce some of the rarer species to the wild and hopefully people will be encouraged to go and see the orchids, both at the Parc and in the wild. Madagascar will benefit from a sustainable exploitation of its own natural resources.

Orchid growers at Tsimbazaza who aim to stem the removal of orchids from the wild and earn money for conservation

Contact: Dr David Du Puy (0181-332 5237)

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Dypsis decipiens, an endangered species from Central Madegascar

Publication of the book Palms of Madagascar, by Kew and the International Palm Society, marks the completion of a project started by Dr John Dransfield in 1986 and since 1990 continued by him and Dr Henk Beentje, funded by McDonald's Restaurants Ltd. The book describes for the first time all 171 palm species known from Madagascar, including 70 previously unknown to science, and is illustrated with numerous colour photographs of palms in their natural habitat.

ISBN 0 947643 82 6. Price 54.60.

Contact: Dr John Dransfield (0181-332 5225)

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A partnership between Kew, the Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute and ORSTOM (Paris) to prepare a Flora of Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues has received a commitment from the European Union Development Fund (Indian Ocean Biodiversity Programme) to assist with the completion of this project. Two thirds of the Flora are already published. Completion will greatly assist the conservation programme.

Contact: Dr Keith Ferguson (0181-332 5248)

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Conservation Initiative

A collaborative conservation programme has been established with the Government of Mauritius to work towards the conservation of the unique biodiversity residing on Mauritius and Rodrigues. The partners in this project are the Mauritian Wildlife Preservation Trust, Fauna and Flora International, and Kew. The project is based on a previous World Wide Fund for Nature project and will focus on habitat restoration and endangered species propagation. The Friends of Kew have sponsored habitat survey work which has resulted in a list of the island's most threatened plant species. Two volunteers from the Kew Diploma course will further the survey and propagation work during 1995/6.

Contact: Mike Maunder (0181-332 5583)

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