Madagascar: key achievements 2006 - 2011
Madagascar is the only country outside the UK where RBG Kew maintains a permanent presence. Our local team, working with RBG Kew UK staff and local institutions, makes a significant contribution to research and conservation in Madagascar and ensures that RBG Kew’s science has maximum impact at all levels from government decision-makers to local communities.
Initiated by presidential decree in 2003, delimitation of the Système d'Aires Protégées de Madagascar (SAPM) is nearly complete and over 50 new protected areas are in the process of having management plans developed with local communities before gaining official status. RBG Kew made two highly significant contributions to the process of identifying and delimiting new protected areas: 1) RBG Kew’s palm dataset was added to data for animals (reptiles, amphibians, mammals and insects) used in the analysis* and 2) the Atlas of the Vegetation of Madagascar provided baseline data on extent and types of remaining vegetation on the island. With 80% of Madagascar’s population dependant on subsistence farming and forests and per capita GDP among the lowest in the world, developing sustainable livelihoods is now the main challenge facing conservation. Due to Madagascar’s evolutionary isolation, its flora represents a distinct and key component of many of RBG Kew’s core plant groups. In recent years, RBG Kew taxonomists have worked on Arecaceae, Dioscoreaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Leguminosae, Orchidaceae, Pandanaceae, Poaceae, Rhamnaceae, Rubiaceae and Sapindaceae, which together comprise over 25 per cent of the flora. Over 200 new species have been described, including 28 published as part of the 250 species target for RBG Kew’s 250th Anniversary in 2010. Tahina spectabilis (2009) and Dioscorea orangeana (2010) were listed in the International Institute for Species Exploration top 10 new species (http://species.asu.edu/Top10). Discovery of the ‘self-destructing’ palm species, Tahina spectabilis,gained huge publicity for RBG Kew with coverage in over 200 newspapers worldwide.
Recent books include:
- Field guide to the palms of Madagascar (Kew Publishing, 2006)
- Atlas of the vegetation of Madagascar (Kew Publishing, 2007)
- Field guide to the mangrove trees of Africa and Madagascar (Kew Publishing, 2007)
- Orchids of Madagascar (Kew Publishing, 2007
- Field Guide to the orchids of Madagascar (Kew Publishing, 2009)
- Field guide to the littoral forest trees of South East Madagascar (Kew Publishing, 2011)
RBG Kew has maintained an office in Madagascar since 1992. Since 1999, the Rubiaceae of Madagascar Project (1997–ongoing), Threatened Plants Project (2003–2006), Millennium Seed Bank Project (2000–2009) and Madagascar Vegetation Mapping Project (2003–2007) have all employed local botanists, and our student programme has supported eight DEAs (MSc. equivalent) and five PhDs. In 2006, Hélène Ralimanana gained the first ever plant taxonomy PhD awarded by the University of Antananarivo for her research on Phyllanthaceae of Madagascar. Her success was followed by Franck Rakotonasolo in 2007 (Rubiaceae) and Mijoro Rakotoarinivo in 2008 (Arecaceae), both of whom work for RBG Kew. The biodiversity crisis 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 of KMCC covers three main themes: systematics and taxonomic research, species conservation and biodiversity conservation. The Kew Madagascar Conservation Centrenow consists of eight Malagasy botanists and three support staff, equipped with a library, computer network, Landover, motor bike, collecting equipment and satellite phones. Dr Ralimanana is the team manager, and we have retained our project staff and students, building their technical capacity and expertise in key areas such as GIS, vegetation surveys, conservation assessments, systematics and taxonomy. The Kew Madagascar Conservation Centremanages a diverse programme of projects, and this strong presence has established RBG Kew as an integral part of the research and conservation community in Madagascar. The research and conservation programme is coordinated by the Madagascar 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.
Systematics and taxonomic research remain a key focus. RBG 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 a 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: origins of grasslands and drylands, evolution of patterns of diversity and extinction risks associated with climate change.
Species conservation is increasingly important as the protected area system nears completion. The Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre 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.
Biodiversity conservation is a developing theme as the Millennium Seed Bank Project (MSBP) evolves from ex-situ conservation as insurance against extinction to proactive use at the forefront of habitat restoration, sustainable livelihoods and species reintroductions. In 2010, Madagascar’s Silo National des Graines Forestières became the first MSBP partner to reach its ten-year target by banking more than 1000 species. Over the next ten-year phase, the Team aims to integrate seed-banking across the Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre 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 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.
The greatest challenge facing the Madagascar Team is that all core funding for Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre has been removed since 2006. The Centre (including all operating costs and staff salaries) is entirely supported through the Kew Foundation, project grants and local contracts.
* 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.
The Madagascar Team’s work directly contributes to the Breathing Planet Programme strategies 1, 2, 3, and 5, and in the future more work will contribute to 4 and 6.
Conferences and workshops
- GBIF International Ecological Niche Modeling workshop, India, 2006
- Kew Madagascar Vegetation Atlas Final Workshop, Antananarivo, Madagascar, September 2007
- Presentation of the Atlas of the Vegetation of Madagascar to former President Ravalomanana, Antananarivo, Madagascar, January 2008
- Changement Climatique à Madagascar, Antananarivo, Madagascar, January 2008
- Kew 250th Anniversary Conference, Plant Conservation for the future, 12-16 October 2009.
Presentation by Mijoro Rakotoarinivo (KMCC): Predictive mapping of the palms in Madagascar.
- 19th Congress of the Association for the Taxonomic Study of the Flora of Tropical Africa (AETFAT), Antananarivo, Madagascar, 25-30 April 2010
Hélène Ralimanan (KMCC) and Tiana Randriamboavonjy (KMCC) were part of the conference organising committee and convened sessions throughout the week. Symposia were chaired by Olwen Grace (RBGK), Solofo Rakotoarisoa (KMCC), Aaron Davis (RBGK) and Henk Beentje (RBGK). RBG Kew staff (KMCC and UK) contributed nine oral presentations, seventeen posters and a stand show-casing RBG Kew’s work in Madagascar. There was a lot of interest and sales of publications like the Atlas of the Vegetation of Madagascar and the Malagasy version of the Field Guide to the Palms of Madagascar.
- 5th International International Rubiaceae and Gentianales Conference, Stockholm, Sweden, September 2010
Presentation by Aaron Davis and Franck Rakotonasolo (KMCC): Predictive Mapping for Coffea species using herbarium specimen data.
The Team’s work contributes directly to six of the GSPC targets: 1, 2, 8, 12, 13 and 14. We also contribute to the UN Millennium Development Goals targets 1 and 7 and the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), themes 1 and 2.
Science Team Leader: Stuart Cable
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