Which processes (including habitat and ecological interactions) structure communities of forest birds, reptiles and lemurs in Mahamavo? In terms of habitat, there is scope for comparison of primary and secondary dry forest and exploration of the effects of gradients in moisture between relatively moist and highly xeric forests. This might permit the identification of indicator species for particular forest types. A more sophisticated approach would be to use Mantel tests to test a suite of competing hypotheses about the environmental processes which explain pairwise dissimilarity in the community of reptiles/birds/lemurs. Pairs could be studied, and differences investigated as a function of distance, difference in environmental variables such as moisture, and difference in habitat configuration. Additionally, it would be possible to test whether ecological interactions, especially competition, within a taxonomic group may be structuring the community. This could be achieved by co-occurrence tests or generalised dissimilarity models. For some groups, development of ecological dissimilarity (ED) based monitoring indicators for environmental condition which track communities through ecological space through time would be a very promising direction to investigate. Alternative directions to take might be to make distribution models and then maps of beta diversity or to use numerical classification to make maps of community types. Finally, for individual taxonomic groups such as birds, it is possible to test for nestedness of communities among a set of sites.
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.