Located just off the southeastern coast of Africa, Madagascar is a remote island nation and home to one of the most biodiverse pockets in the world, among them the elusive diamond frog. Even in the most well-studied areas, new species are constantly being discovered.
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Madagascar has embarked on its most ambitious tree-planting drive yet, aiming to plant 60 million trees in the coming months. The island nation celebrates 60 years of independence this year, and the start of the planting campaign on Jan. 19 marked one year since the inauguration of President Andry Rajoelina, who has promised to restore Madagascar's lost forests.
Seedlings at the tree-planting site in Ankazobe district, Madagascar, on Jan. 19. Valisoa Rasolofomboahangy / Mongabay<p>For the planting season that runs until April, the Rajoelina administration wants 60 million seedlings to be planted across 40,000 ha (99,000 acres). <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/11/madagascars-bold-reforestation-goal-lacks-a-coherent-plan-experts-say/" target="_blank">Experts interviewed by Mongabay</a> last November said it would be a formidable undertaking, especially for a country where almost 80 percent of the population does not have access to grid electricity, and felling trees to make charcoal for cooking is a widespread practice. Reconciling the immediate needs of the country's poor and the long-term goal of stemming and then turning the tide of deforestation will be tough, observers say. It remains to be seen whether Rajoelina has the will to see it through, given his <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/01/madagascars-next-president-to-take-office-bears-suspect-eco-record/" target="_blank">checkered record</a> on the environment.</p><p>Madagascar has hosted tree-planting drives in the past, but the push from the president's office this time around is expected to make a difference. Nirina Rakotonanahary, 30, a participant at the launch, said it was his first time taking part in a tree-planting drive, which he said was popularized by the president. Close to 200,000 seedlings were gathered in nurseries for the launch event and transported to the Ankazobe site on trucks. For the national campaign, an estimated 100 million seeds have been rounded up by regional centers of the environmental ministry and its partners. The seedlings are being distributed free of cost to institutions and associations from government-run nurseries.</p><p>The launch made it clear the government is trying to strike a balance between planting endemic species and agroforestry species, some of which are exotic and invasive. The 50 species that are available at the nurseries include exotic acacia, eucalyptus, fruit trees and various spice trees. Rakotonanahary said he planted fruit trees because if the yield was good, they might be able to export the produce.</p>
Seedlings at the tree-planting site in Ankazobe district, Madagascar, on Jan. 19. Valisoa Rasolofomboahangy / Mongabay<p>To secure the trees, especially those viewed as useful by people, will be an uphill task. "We want to encourage people to plant and not consume the fruits of the trees inside the parks or cut them to make charcoal," said Mamy Rakotoarijaona, director of Madagascar National Parks. Despite being protected areas, national parks in Madagascar have also witnessed significant deforestation; they have now emerged as important sites for the reforestation campaign.</p><p>To extend the drive to remote areas, the government plans to use drones and airplanes. During the launch event, about 5 tons of seeds in the form of seed balls were dropped from an aircraft over 500 ha of land. Each ball of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/soil">soil</a> is packed with 25 seeds. The success rate measured in terms of how many seeds survive and germinate is about 60 percent, according to a government release that cited a pilot project carried out in 2018. The ministry of environment also said the practice would save on the cost of plastic bags that hold seedlings before they are transplanted.</p><p>The immediate concern is to sustain the momentum for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/tree-planting" rel="noopener noreferrer">tree planting</a>, and in the longer term to ensure that gains are not frittered away. The president, in his speech, said that meeting concrete targets and following up with action would be central to the campaign. "This time, the action will be continuous, and there will be a follow-up. The state will recruit guards to monitor and protect the young plants," Alexandre Georget, Madagascar's environment minister, said at the launch.</p>
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By Andrea L. Baden
The island of Madagascar off the southeastern coast of Africa hosts at least 12,000 plant species and 700 vertebrate species, 80% to 90% of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
Isolated for the last 88 million years and covering an area approximately the size of the northeastern United States, Madagascar is one of the world's hottest biodiversity hotspots. Its island-wide species diversity is striking, but its tropical forest biodiversity is truly exceptional.
Sadly, human activities are ravaging tropical forests worldwide. Habitat fragmentation, over-harvesting of wood and other forest products, over-hunting, invasive species, pollution and climate change are depleting many of these forests' native species.
The Forest Is Disappearing<p>Madagascar has lost nearly half (44%) of its forests <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2018.04.008" target="_blank">within the last 60 years</a>, largely due to slash-and-burn agriculture – known locally as "tavy" – and charcoal production. Habitat loss and fragmentation <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.14173" target="_blank">runs throughout Madagascar's history</a>, and the rates of change are staggering.</p><p>This destruction threatens Madagascar's biodiversity and its human population. Nearly 50% of the country's <a href="http://globalforestwatch.org/" target="_blank">remaining forest</a> is now located <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2018.04.008" target="_blank">within 300 feet (100 meters) of an unforested area</a>. Deforestation, illegal hunting and collection for the pet trade are pushing many species toward the <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1245783" target="_blank">brink of extinction</a>.</p><p>In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that 95% of Madagascar's lemurs are <a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/lemurs-in-crisis-105-species-now-threatened-with-extinction/" target="_blank">now threatened</a>, making them the world's <a href="https://www.livescience.com/21592-madagascar-lemurs-endangered.html" target="_blank">most endangered mammals</a>. Pressure on Madagascar's biodiversity has <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0288-0" target="_blank">significantly increased over the last decade</a>.</p>
Deforestation Threatens Ruffed Lemur Survival<p>In a newly published study, climate scientist <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=b24cai8AAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao" target="_blank">Toni Lyn Morelli</a>, species distribution expert <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=_vVCUiIAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao" target="_blank">Adam Smith</a> and I worked with 19 other researchers to study how <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0647-x" target="_blank">deforestation and climate change</a> will affect two critically endangered ruffed lemur species over the next century. Using combinations of different deforestation and climate change scenarios, we estimate that suitable rainforest habitat could be reduced by as much as 93%.</p><p>If left unchecked, deforestation alone could effectively eliminate ruffed lemurs' entire eastern rainforest habitat and with it, the animals themselves. In sum, for these lemurs the effects of forest loss will outpace climate change.</p><p>But we also found that if current protected areas lose no more forest, climate change and deforestation outside of parks will reduce suitable habitat by only 62%. This means that maintaining and enhancing the integrity of protected areas will be essential for saving Madagascar's rainforest habitats.</p><p>In a study published in November 2019, my colleagues and I showed that ruffed lemurs <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-52689-2" target="_blank">depend on habitat cover to survive</a>. We investigated natural and human-caused impediments that prevent the lemurs from spreading across their range, and tracked the movement of their genes as they ranged between habitats and reproduced. This movement, known as gene flow, is important for maintaining genetic variability within populations, allowing lemurs to adapt to their ever-changing environments.</p><p>Based on this analysis, we parsed out which landscape variables – including rivers, elevation, roads, habitat quality and human population density – best explained gene flow in ruffed lemurs. We found that human activity was the best predictor of ruffed lemurs' population structure and gene flow. Deforestation alongside human communities was the most significant barrier.</p><p><span></span>Taken together, these and other lines of evidence show that deforestation poses an imminent threat to conservation on Madagascar. Based on our projections, habitat loss is a more immediate threat to lemurs than climate change, at least in the immediate future.</p><p><span></span>This matters not only for lemurs, but also for other plants and animals in the areas where lemurs are found. The same is true at the global level: More than one-third (about 36.5%) of Earth's plant species are <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaz0414" target="_blank">exceedingly rare</a> and disproportionately affected by human use of land. Regions where the most rare species live are experiencing higher levels of human impact.</p>
Crisis Can Drive Conservation<p>Scientists have warned that the fate of Madagascar's rich natural heritage <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0288-0" target="_blank">hangs in the balance</a>. Results from our work suggest that strengthening protected areas and reforestation efforts will help to mitigate this devastation while environmentalists work toward long-term solutions for curbing the runaway greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.</p><p>Already, nonprofits are working hard toward these goals. A partnership between Dr. Edward E. Louis Jr., founder of <a href="https://madagascarpartnership.org/" target="_blank">Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership</a> and director of Conservation Genetics at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, and the Arbor Day Foundation's <a href="https://www.arborday.org/programs/rainforest/madagascar/" target="_blank">Plant Madagascar</a> project has replanted nearly 3 million trees throughout Kianjavato, one region identified by our study. Members of <a href="https://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/centre-valbio/community_outreach/community.html" target="_blank">Centre ValBio's reforestation team</a> – a nonprofit based just outside of Ranomafana National Park that facilitates our ruffed lemur research – are following suit.</p><p>At an international conference in Nairobi earlier this year, Madagascar's president, Andry Rajoelina, promised to <a href="https://www.oneplanetsummit.fr/en" target="_blank">reforest 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres) every year</a> for the next five years – the equivalent of 75,000 football fields. This commitment, while encouraging, unfortunately <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/11/madagascars-bold-reforestation-goal-lacks-a-coherent-plan-experts-say/" target="_blank">lacks a coherent implementation plan</a>.</p><p>Our projections highlight areas of habitat persistence, as well as areas where ruffed lemurs could experience near-complete habitat loss or genetic isolation in the not-so-distant future. Lemurs are an effective indicator of total <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0136787" target="_blank">non-primate community richness</a> in Madagascar, which is another way of saying that protecting lemurs will protect biodiversity. Our results can help pinpoint where to start.</p>
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By John R. Platt
For years now conservationists have warned that many of Madagascar's iconic lemur species face the risk of extinction due to rampant deforestation, the illegal pet trade and the emerging market for the primates' meat.
Yes, people eat lemurs, and the reasons they do aren't exactly what we might expect.
Lemur at a hotel.
Leonora Enking / CC BY-SA 2.0<p>The tourism boom and the insect research remains in their early phases, but still, they represent progress for the world's <a href="https://www.coloradoan.com/story/money/2019/07/07/afghanistan-madagascar-malawi-poorest-countries-in-the-world/39636131/" target="_blank">eighth-poorest country</a>, a land where at least <a href="https://therevelator.org/lemurs-crisis-extinction/" target="_blank">95 percent of lemur species are threatened with extinction</a> and far too many people suffer in poverty. With those threats continuing to weigh heavily on both wildlife and people, every step forward is critical — both for humans and wildlife.</p><p><em>(</em><em>An earlier version of this article was published by </em>Scientific American<em>.)</em></p>
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The largest bird that ever stalked Earth's surface is officially the "Vorombe titan," a previously unidentified species of elephant bird that once roamed the island of Madagascar.
Literally meaning "big bird" in Malagasy and Greek, the giant creature could weigh more than 1,700 pounds and stood nearly 10 feet tall, a new study published Wednesday in Royal Society Open Science has revealed.
By Jason Bittel
At last count, there were 505 nonhuman primate species living in the wilds of 90 countries across the globe. That might make you think of Earth as the Planet of the Apes (plus monkeys, lemurs, tarsiers and lorises), but according to a large study published last month, those statistics are a little misleading.
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By Edward Carver
Lemurs in Madagascar have been under pressure from deforestation, poaching, drought and other challenges for years. Now, in the much-visited Berenty Reserve near the island's southern tip, one species faces a mysterious new threat.
In the last month and a half, at least 31 Verreaux's sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi) have died in the reserve. Most were found already dead; others were found gravely ill and later died from respiratory failure. Berenty staff and local scientists have reached out to veterinarians and primatologists across the world. The experts believe that a parasite or tick-borne disease is likely to blame, but the exact cause remains unknown.
Protecting key regions that comprise just 17 percent of Earth’s land may help preserve more than two-thirds of its plant species, according to a new Duke University-led study by an international team of scientists.
The researchers from Duke, North Carolina State University and Microsoft Research used computer algorithms to identify the smallest set of regions worldwide that could contain the largest numbers of plant species. They published their findings yesterday in the journal Science.
“Our analysis shows that two of the most ambitious goals set forth by the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity—to protect 60 percent of Earth’s plant species and 17 percent of its land surface—can be achieved, with one major caveat,” said Stuart L. Pimm, Doris Duke professor of conservation ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
“To achieve these goals, we need to protect more land, on average, than we currently do, and much more in key places such as Madagascar, New Guinea and Ecuador,” Pimm said. “Our study identifies regions of importance. The logical—and very challenging—next step will be to make tactical local decisions within those regions to secure the most critical land for conservation.”
Plant species aren’t haphazardly distributed across the planet. Certain areas, including Central America, the Caribbean, the Northern Andes and regions in Africa and Asia have much higher concentrations of endemic species, that is, those which are found nowhere else.
“Species endemic to small geographical ranges are at a much higher risk of being threatened or endangered than those with large ranges," said Lucas N. Joppa, a conservation scientist at Microsoft Research’s Computational Science Laboratory in Cambridge, UK. "We combined regions to maximize the numbers of species in the minimal area. With that information, we can more accurately evaluate each region’s relative importance for conservation, and assess international priorities accordingly.”
To identify which of Earth’s regions contain the highest concentrations of endemic species, relative to their geographic size, the researchers analyzed data on more than 100,000 different species of flowering plants, compiled by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England.
Joppa and Piero Visconti, also of Microsoft Research’s Computational Science Laboratory, created and ran the complex algorithms needed to analyze the large spatial database.
Based on their computations, Clinton N. Jenkins, a research scholar at North Carolina State University, created a color-coded global map identifying high-priority regions for plant conservation, ranked by endemic species density.
“We also mapped where the greatest numbers of small-ranged birds, mammals and amphibians occur, and found that they are broadly in the same places we show to be priorities for plants,” Jenkins said. “So preserving these lands for plants will benefit many animals, too.”
Without having access to the Royal Botanic Gardens’ plant database, which is one of the largest biodiversity databases in the world, the team would not have been able to conduct their analysis, said Joppa, who received his Ph.D. in ecology from Duke in 2009.
Pimm and Jenkins lead the conservation nonprofit Saving Species, which works with local communities and international agencies to purchase and protect threatened lands that are critical for biodiversity.
“The fraction of land being protected in high-priority regions increases each year as new national parks are established and greater autonomy is given back to indigenous peoples to allow them to manage their traditional lands,” Pimm said. “We’re getting tantalizingly close to achieving the Convention of Biological Diversity’s global goals. But the last few steps remaining are huge ones.”
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
A new report released on the sidelines of the World Future Energy Summit today, shows that even if all electricity is to be generated through renewable energy (RE) sources, and with solar photovoltaics (PV) alone, it would take up only an insignificant amount of total land area, contrary to common perception.
The report, Solar PV Atlas: solar power in harmony with nature, shows through seven cases—six countries and one region—less than 1 percent of the total land mass would be required to meet 100 percent of projected electricity demand in 2050, if generating electricity only with solar PV .
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) teamed up with First Solar, 3TIER and Fresh Generation to develop the report. It looks at Indonesia, Madagascar, Mexico, Morocco, South Africa, Turkey and the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
The regions represent diverse geographies, demographics, natural environments, economies and political structures. They receive different but good average levels of sunshine, and all show vast potential for widespread development of solar PV, a well-established, commercially available and reliable technology today.
The report illustrates that PV technology, when well-planned, does not conflict with conservation goals and clarifies that no country or region must choose between solar PV and space for humans and nature.
"Research has found that PV power plants provide considerable environmental benefits, including a low carbon footprint and a short energy pay-back time. Replacing existing grid electricity with PV arrays significantly reduces greenhouse gas and heavy metal emissions as well water usage,” says Lettemieke Mulder, First Solar vice president for sustainability.
This new report supports WWF’s vision of 100 perecent RE by 2050. “We are actively promoting investments and measures in renewable energy technologies that help to make this happen,” according to Jean-Philippe Denruyter, WWF’s manager Global Renewable Energy Policy.
“As climate change increasingly threatens people and the natural world, it is more important than ever to work for the rapid and wide-scale adoption of well sited, responsibly operated renewable energy power facilities. Environmental protection and renewable energy can and are developing in parallel,” says Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF’s Global Climate & Energy Initiative.