Landscapes are the product of living nature (i.e. animals and plants), humans, and the physical environment: understanding how these factors relate to one another and how they affect biodiversity is one of the goals of landscape ecology. In the Mahamavo landscape in north-west Madagascar, we collect data on lemurs, forest birds, and herptiles to build knowledge concerning spatio-temporal patterns of biodiversity. However, in order to make resilient conservation plans for a dynamic future characterised by land cover change, climate change, human population growth, and infrastructure development, we need to be able to understand the processes that are affecting the distribution and density of species across the landscape. Students on this project will have access to our extensive dataset (biodiversity and environmental data), as well as actively contribute to data collection on surveys throughout the field season alongside the science teams. Statistical analyses would be used to assess biodiversity, nestedness, or species rarity patterns (for example) for various populations, families, genera, or feeding guilds in relation to the human (e.g. villages, tracks, and farmland) and physical environment (e.g. vegetation health, proximity to rivers and lakes). Students could include analyses relating to forest patch size, edge effects, isolation, and compactness towards understanding the likely consequences of further habitat fragmentation in this changing landscape.
Madagascar boasts some of the most spectacular biodiversity in the world: lemurs, tenrecs, baobabs and over half of all known chameleon species. Much of this biodiversity is endemic. The Operation Wallacea surveys are completing research on the dry forests and associated wetlands of Mahamavo in the northwest of Madagascar.
Madagascar has declared 17% of its land as protected areas, but much of this land is already severely degraded, so the actual area of land under protection is much smaller. An alternative approach to assigning protected area status and prohibiting usage, is to develop community managed areas such as Mahamavo, where there is a mosaic of protected and managed areas. DTZ, the German Technical Support Agency has established a series of community managed forests in the Mahamavo area that appear to be successful and may form the basis for conservation and improving livelihoods in other parts of Madagascar. The Opwall teams here are monitoring how the forest structure and biodiversity in these community managed forests are changing over time to identify whether this management strategy can provide a viable alternative to national parks in terms of protecting biodiversity.
The dry forests around Mahamavo have exceptional diversity with two species of diurnal lemur and another five to six species of nocturnal lemurs, two spectacular species of chameleons, three known species of leaf-tailed geckos, and many endemic birds. In addition to the forest work, the Opwall teams are also documenting the biodiversity value of the adjacent wetlands with a view to getting this area upgraded to Ramsar status (a Ramsar Site is a wetland site designated of international importance under the Ramsar Convention).
In Madagascar it is the dry season so it is hot during the day (temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius) with extremely little chance of rain. During the evenings the temperature does drop to around 18 degrees Celsius with occasional cold spells getting as low as 14 degrees Celsius.
Fitness level required
Moderate. This project requires you to walk long distances, and although the terrain is relatively flat you will be walking mostly on sand which can be tiring.
Facilities are basic (tents, bucket showers, long drop toilets). The site has no phone signal or wifi.