In the Mahamavo dry forest most diurnal and nocturnal lemur species are easily seen by teams walking sample routes by day and at night. However, two nocturnal species, the fork-marked lemur Phaner pallescens and fat-tailed dwarf lemur Cheirogaleus medius, are seldom seen by the field teams. Additionally, the forest is within the range of aye-aye Daubentonia madagascariensis, so it could occur in Mahamavo, although it has not yet been detected. Every year there are a small number of sightings of carnivores including the Fossa Cryptoprocta ferox, Falanouc Eupleres goudotti, and Ring-tailed mongoose Galidia elegans, but not enough observations to infer their distributions or population sizes. The dry forests are also home to bush pigs Potamochoreus larvatus. For cryptic species such as these, we use a network of 40 camera traps to gain reliable data on distributions, densities and trends through time, without needing to trap animals. Students choosing this project would help design the spatial and temporal sampling strategy for the cameras, select ‘best’ sites at the local scale to install them on the ground or in trees, visit the cameras to change SD cards and look at the photos and then undertake analysis of the detection histories of each species recorded by the cameras at each site using occupancy models. This powerful approach allows occupancy of sampling units (camera locations) over the course of the season to be estimated taking account of the detectability of each species.
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.