Kew's projects in Madagascar and Mascarenes

Kew's scientists use a variety of specialist techniques to record and protect endangered species.

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22 Sep 2009

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Land rover driving through river

Kew's MSB team on expedition in Madagascar (Image: RBG Kew)

Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership is protecting plant life at risk in Madagascar

Madagascar has a rich flora, estimated to total between 10-12,000 species, of which up to 85% are not found naturally anywhere else on Earth. Many plants are known to grow in just a few areas, and are critically endangered.

Over the last 50 years human activities have had a dramatic impact on the flora of Madagascar. Vegetation clearance for agriculture, charcoal production and timber extraction, as well as by fire has resulted in the reduction of many plant species in this region. The illegal collecting of orchids, palms, dryland succulents and other charismatic plants has also had an impact on the distribution of these plant species.

To help protect plant species at risk from extinction, Kew has produced a range of plant identification guides to help botanists and conservationists working in the area to identify plant life at risk. We are currently working on a guide to aloe, one of the plant groups at risk in Madagascar where finding and identifying species in the field has proved difficult in the past. Field guides already produced to help conservation efforts in Madagascar include orchids and palms.

Our threatened plants project is also helping to save plants and habitats at risk. Working with our partners, Kew is helping to protect some of the most critically endangered species by conserving them in local seed banks and at the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place.

Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership in Madagascar and Mauritius

Mapping plant life in Madagascar with GIS

Kew's Madagascar GIS project is a collaboration between Kew's Herbarium and the Millennium Seed Bank partnership.

Mapping plant life with GIS (Geographical Information Systems) has great potential for botanists. It can enable plant scientists and conservationists to quickly correlate different types of data and information such as plant species distribution and climatic data.

Altitudinal range, vegetation, geology and climate can all be mapped alongside species distribution with far greater accuracy than ever before. As well as improving our understanding of the distribution of plant life and habitats around the world, we can also use GIS data to predict and map species distributions in areas previously unmapped.

GIS mapping is already helping Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership to successfully locate and bank the seeds of some of the rarest and most critically endangered species of the drylands of Madagascar.

In vitro propagation of café marron (Ramosmania rodriguesii, Rubiaceae)

Café marron (Ramosmania rodriguesii), a member of the coffee family (Rubiaceae), is one of the world's rarest plants. It is endemic to the island of Rodrigues in Mauritius where only one tree remains in the wild.

This species is propagated through stem cuttings, and in this case is more difficult to achieve than common propagation techniques. One of the aims of our project is to standardise the conditions needed to produce fruits during the peak flowering season. This will enable Kew's conservationists to propagate the seeds of café marron more easily, and we will then bank the seeds at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place, West Sussex for future use.


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