The dry forests in Mahamavo support a wide range of microchiropteran bats which use echolocation. These species can be monitored by constant effort mist netting, but this requires a huge amount of sampling effort to be able to reliably detect trends in bat populations. An alternative approach is to analyse ultrasound recordings. You would make use of a set of audiomoth acoustic devices deployed at forest edges and near water bodies across the Mariarano landscape. These can be programmed to record at set times of day and are left unattended. The sound recordings can then be viewed as sonograms and automatically compared with published sonograms using machine learning to identify how many individuals of each species were present on a sampling occasion at each location. You might also want to use environmental data on vegetation structure or landscape configuration to test whether bat community composition and activity can be explained by environmental factors.
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 carrying out long term monitoring surveys in the adjacent wetlands, which have recently been given 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.