[Science news] - Uncovering forest diversity in south-eastern Madagascar

Madagascar is one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots. The island still has large pristine tropical forests harbouring unique biodiversity, including iconic baobabs and lemurs. However, the forests are threatened by illegal logging and clearing for agriculture, so surveying, collecting and describing the Malagasy diversity is more urgent than ever.

Researchers from Meise Botanic Garden, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris and Parc Botanique et Zoologique de Tsimbazaza have initiated a project to characterise the diversity of three main taxonomic groups in Madagascar: Malvales (flowering plants), lichens and ferns. 

In November-December 2019, two researchers from Meise Botanic Garden explored the south-east of Madagascar, collaborating with local botanists and guides. We surveyed dry and coastal forests, and Andohahela National Park which has a transition zone from lowland dry habitats to high mountain tropical rainforests. The climatic and altitude gradient (from sea level to 1200 m) supports a wide range of plants. We collected over 800 herbarium specimens from around 400 species, despite the challenging conditions of the remote sites and harsh climates. Humidity threatened to rot our samples, and land leeches were foraging for our blood!

Our collections will be studied using morpho-anatomical and phylogenetic comparative approaches. Our specimens, together with the island’s isolation and topography, provide gateways to understanding how such biological wealth evolved.