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Diversity and Conservation of Madagascar Palms

Exploring and conserving one of the richest and most threatened palm floras in the world.

 Tahina spectabilis, a new monotypic genus of gigantic fan palm from Madagascar described in 2008 by Kew researchers in collaboration with an international team. Photo: J. Dransfield.

Palms are among the most threatened plants in Madagascar. Not only are their habitats extensively degraded, but they are also under pressure from targeted exploitation by man for use in construction, weaving, food, medicine and ornamental plants. With 195 native species, palms are highly diverse in Madagascar. Around 97% of species are endemic to the island and many have very restricted ranges with naturally small population sizes. Three quarters of the species are threatened with extinction. Despite their rarity, they are often highly conspicuous, especially in the eastern rainforests, providing numerous ecosystem services to other organisms.

Kew researchers have been actively studying the palms of Madagascar since the 1980s. The first phase of work culminated in the publication of a benchmark regional monograph The Palms of Madagascar (Dransfield & Beentje 1995). As a result of this and subsequent research, more than half of the palm species known from Madagascar have been discovered and described by Kew staff. Since this time, Kew has focused on improving local capacity for palm research, collaborating and training new palm experts in Madagascar and providing accessible tools, such as the Field guide to the palms of Madagascar (Dransfield et al. 2006), which was published in English and Malagasy language versions. Now, with strong capacity for palm research in-country at the Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre (KMCC), an integrated programme of diversity and conservation research has been established. This includes ongoing exploration of native palm biodiversity using novel GIS-based approaches to target field research. Niche modelling and predictive mapping of palms has proved very effective and KMCC botanists have started to apply these techniques to other priority plant groups. A reassessment of the conservation status of all Madagascar species has been completed and provided to the IUCN Red List. These data are being used to prioritise future palm conservation work, which is further informed by collaborative work in conservation genetics and seed biology. In future we intend to continue baseline palm exploration, implement conservation of endangered species in collaboration with local communities and conservation agencies, devise conservation strategies, monitor populations, raise local awareness of conservation and sustainable use, and contribute to the establishment of protected areas. Kew’s strong collaborative links with local organisations (e.g. Parc Botanique et Zoologique de Tsimbazaza, University of Antananarivo) and our global partnerships with other botanic gardens will underpin activities in these.

Key papers published since 2006
1. Dransfield*, J., Beentje*, H.J., Britt*, A., Ranarivelo, T. & Razafitsalama, J. (2006). Field guide to the palms of Madagascar. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Also published in Malagasy language as Toro-lalan'irea satrapotsy eto Madagasikara. edn. 172 pp.
2. Dransfield*, J., Beentje*, H.J., Britt*, A., Ranarivelo, T. & Razafitsalama, J. (2006). Toro-Ialan'ireo satrapotsy (palmier) eto Madagasikara. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Malagasy edn. 172 pp.
3. Rakotondranony, G.L., Sacandé*, M., Wood*, C.B. & Pritchard*, H.W. (2006). Seed storage responses in four species of the threatened genus Ravenea (Arecaceae). Seed Science and Technology 34 (2): 535-539.
4. Rakotoarinivo, M., Ranarivelo, T. & Dransfield, J. 2007. A new species of Beccariophoenix from the high plateau of Madagascar. Palms 51(2): 63-75.
5. Shapcott, A., Rakotoarinivo, M., Smith*, R.J., Lysaková, G., Fay*, M.F. & Dransfield*, J. (2007). Can we bring Madagascar's critically endangered palms back from the brink? Using an understanding of genetics and ecology to guide a conservation and recovery programme for the iconic and critically endangered palm Beccariophoenix madagascariensis. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 154: 589-608.

6. Dransfield*, J., Rakotoarinivo, M., Baker*, W.J., Bayton, R.P., Fisher, J.B., Horn, J.W., Leroy, B. & Metz, X. (2008). A new corypoid palm genus from Madagascar. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 156: 79-91.
7. Dransfield, J., Leroy, B., Metz, X. & Rakotoarinivo, M. (2008). Tahina, A new palm genus from Madagascar. Palms 52 (1) : 31—39.
8. Kremen, C., Cameron, A., Moilanen, A., Phillips, S.J., Thomas, C.D., Beentje*, H.J., Dransfield*, J., Fisher, B.L., Glaw, F., Good, T.C., Harper, G.J., Hijmans, R.J., Lees, D.C., Louis, E., Nussbaum, R.A., Raxworthy, C.J., Razafimpahanana, A., Schatz, G.E., Vences, M., Vieites, D.R., Wright, P.C. & Zjhra, M.L. (2008). Aligning conservation priorities across taxa in Madagascar with high-resolution planning tools. Science 320: 222-226.
9. Rakotoarinivo, M. (2008). A Remarkable Ravenea from the mountain forest of Andilamena, Palms 52(1): 11–17.
10. Hodel, D.R., Marcus, J. & Dransfield, J. (2009). Dypsis plumosa, the Madagascar Queen Palm. Palms 53: 161–165.
11. Rakotoarinivo, M., Trudgen, M.S. & Baker*, W.J. (2009). The palms of the Makira protected area, Madagascar. Palms and Cycads 53: 125-146.
12. Rakotoarinivo*, M. & Dransfield, J. (2010). New species of Dypsis and Ravenea (Arecaceae) from Madagascar. Kew Bulletin 65: 279-303.
13. Rakotoarinivo*, M., Razafitsalama, J.L., Baker*, W.J. & Dransfield*, J. (2010). Analalava - a palm conservation hotspot in eastern Madagascar. Palms 54: 141-151.


Project partners and collaborators


Parc Botanique et Zoologique de Tsimbazaza

Silo Nationale des Graines Forestières

University of Antananarivo

Rio Tinto QMM

Metz, Xavier

Turk, Dan


Shapcott, Alison (University of the Sunshine Coast)


Missouri Botanical Garden

Project funders

Bentham-Moxon Trust
Kew Foundation
International Palm Society
World Bank

Project team

Herbarium, Library, Art & Archives

William J. Baker, Henk Beenjie, Stuart Cable, John Dransfield (HRF) 

Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre

Mijoro Rakotoarinivo, Franck, Rakotonasolo, Héléne Ralimanana, Tiana Randriamboavonjy

Seed Conservation Department

Hugh Pritchard

Project Leader: