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Grasses of Madagascar

A taxonomic treatment of Madagascan grasses is needed to assess the country's grassland biodiversity and its origins
Endemic species of wild sugar Saccharum perrieri, held by Madagascar MSc student Nanjarisoa. Open upland grasslands such as this one in Itremo are home to poorly known rare grasses, and could represent natural ecosystems. (Photo: MS Vorontsova)

Media programs about Madagascar are full of lemurs and rainforests, yet more than 75% of the Madagascar land area is occupied by grassland and savanna. Do the extensive Central Plateau grasslands of Madagascar represent a natural and ancient ecosystem or are they a degraded by-product of Man as has traditionally been assumed? Ecologists are debating this question but finding that they are unable to assess the grassland biodiversity as nobody in Madagascar can identify the grasses and no species list or taxonomic treatment exists. The poor state of taxonomy and species occurrence knowledge of Madagascar grasses is holding back both biodiversity assessments and ecological research. The only taxonomic treatment of Poaceae in Madagascar published in 1969 describes 291 species while a modern informal compilation lists almost twice as many with 577 species.

This project begins the work towards a flora treatment of grasses of Madagascar, primarily working on morphology based species delimitation relying on the combined collections at RBG Kew and Paris herbaria. Reconstruction of evolutionary history of endemic grass lineages and population genetic work is carried out in collaboration with RBG Kew Jodrell Laboratory and CNRS-Toulouse. Field work is carried out in collaboration with the Kew Madagascar Team in London, the Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre (KMCC) in Antananarivo, and the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The project will contribute to KMCC conservation work, including the Itremo Massif Protected Area Project and the MSBP Madagascar Programme, and will help to identify hotspots of diversity and endemism in the central highlands.

Project partners and collaborators


Russell Hall (University of Sheffield)


Guillame Besnard (CNRS - Toulouse)