Our research and conservation programme is coordinated by the Madagascar Science Team, which consists of specialists with interests drawn from across the institution, and with institutional support from the Africa: Drylands Team and the Millennium Seed Bank.
The biodiversity crisis has forced us to place increasing emphasis on conservation and in 2009 the Madagascar office was reformulated as the Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre (KMCC) in alignment with the Breathing Planet Programme and with the objective of helping Madagascar achieve the targets of the Durban Vision, the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and the Millennium Development Goals.
The work covers three main themes: taxonomic and systematics research, species conservation and biodiversity conservation.
Taxonomy and systematics
These remain key foci. Kew is the leading institution for revising the large plant families of Madagascar and the Guide to the Rubiaceae of Madagascar, which is nearing completion, will be the next major contribution towards a completed flora. We also aim to use molecular phylogenetics and state of the art GIS-tools to inform conservation. The palms team have successfully demonstrated the application of niche modelling and predictive mapping, increasing the species total by 20 to over 200 and extending the known ranges of many poorly known species.
Research questions include the origins of the grasslands and drylands, the evolution of patterns of diversity and the extinction risks associated with climate change.
This is increasingly important as the newly enlarged protected area system nears completion. KMCC is developing strategies for engaging local communities in conservation, including protected area management and endangered species conservation. Model plant groups include yams, orchids, palms and coffees, and our ongoing work publishing full IUCN Conservation Assessments for these groups has greatly increased our understanding of the overall threats and patterns of biodiversity loss in Madagascar.
The wider issues being addressed include food security, rural livelihoods and adaptation to climate change. Our projects aim to reinforce efforts to conserve forests as well as provide sustainable livelihoods that offer viable alternatives to slash and burn agriculture. Protected area management enables us to develop effective strategies for community participation within a legal framework established by the Government of Madagascar.
This is a developing theme as the Millennium Seed Bank Project (MSBP) evolves from ex situ conservation as insurance against extinction to proactive enabling of use at the forefront of habitat restoration, sustainable livelihoods and species reintroductions. In 2010, Silo National des Graines Forestières became the first MSBP partner to reach its ten-year target by banking more than 1,000 species.
Over the next ten-year phase we aim to integrate seed-banking across the KMCC programme and involve local partners managing protected areas. We also plan to build in-country capacity for forest restoration, agroforestry, remote sensing and rapid botanical surveys, in order to contribute to the rehabilitation of ecosystems, adaptation of useful species and sequestration of carbon that will be needed over the long-term to ameliorate climate change and sustain quality of life.