Ants are a globally distributed group of social insects, and in the Mariarano tropical dry forest they comprise a large share of animal biomass and carry out many ecosystem functions. Ants are also an important indicator group for monitoring and evaluating environmental conditions and biodiversity. Ant taxonomy is stable and excellent reference materials are available
for species identification. Around 30 species are known from Mariarano. We monitor ants in Mariarano using the Ants of the Leaf Litter Protocol (Agosti 2000). This involves pitfall trapping and extraction of ants from leaf litter from sets of 20 sub-sample locations along a 200m line within each segment of the forest sample routes. These routes were designed as a stratified sample of forests of different configurations (patch size and edge distance) and levels of disturbance. You would also measure environmental variables (air temperature, relative humidity, leaf litter depth, canopy cover) at each sample location. Point centered quadrats are used to sample and identify the four trees nearest each sub-sample location. In camp, specimens are sorted under the microscope in Mariarano to morphospecies, and where possible identified using our reference collections and Fisher (2016) Ants of Africa and Madagascar. It is also possible to confirm identifications by barcoding. Projects could use these rich datasets to test for the landscape configuration sensitivity of ant species; investigate ecological interactions between ants and trees; look at the assembly of ant communities; test for congruence between ants and other taxonomic groups to evaluate the complementary value of monitoring ants in addition to plants and vertebrates.
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.