Written by Sam Hyde Roberts
Photos Courtesy of Sam Hyde Roberts and Dave Andrews
Looking back on my first Opwall expedition (Madagascar) and having had some time for reflection, now seems an appropriate time for a summary of my experience both from a scientific and personal perspective. Having worked in Madagascar for several years, I can vouch for the myriad difficulties associated with conducting quality research in the country, and the high scientific standards Opwall strive towards are impressive. The depth of scientific knowledge and the range of expertise present at each of the research camps is remarkable, and with the numerous dedicated dissertation students also in residence, the whole expedition felt professional, significant and worthwhile. Furthermore the facilitation provided by the Malagasy partners played a vital role in both the logistics of the programme and also the acquisition of essential research permits. However, I do feel that more may be done to integrate the project into the local community setting, in a manner which could benefit both groups.
The arcane nature of Madagascar’s lepidopteran fauna has meant that fulfilling my remit; compiling a reliable and accurate butterfly species inventory for the Mariarano region – has not been without its challenges (namely identification!). However the value of this first years entomological project is considerable and these challenges needed to be met if future lepidopteran diversity monitoring studies are to be established. Lepidopteran diversity has long been held as an appropriate proxy to measure environmental change, and this baseline study can hopefully provide another tool in support of the long term monitoring and safeguarding of the Mariarano forests. Overall it has been a genuine pleasure and privilege to work with a fantastic group of expert field researchers and international scientists, and I look forward to hearing about and reading further studies coming out of Opwall Madagascar in the coming years.
From a researchers perspective, a sultry six weeks spent studying, examining and researching the butterfly community of Mariarano region and its hinterlands has been a wonderful experience. Having had the agreeable opportunity to spend time to familiarise and dedicate myself towards the study of a difficult and esoteric group, I can wholeheartedly recommend the project to any aspiring research scientist. This project would not have been possible without the strong and longstanding relationships Opwall have previously cultivated in Madagascar, and these are a testament to the strength of the ongoing scientific research here. Lastly I would like to personally thank Dr David Lees for his charitable expert advice and help with the difficult identifications!