• Overview
  • Objectives
  • Skills you gain
  • Costs to Consider
  • Site Conditions

Colour is used in fundamentally distinct ways by the different taxonomic groups of reptiles found in Mahamavo. Although chameleons are depicted in the media as solely using colour change for crypticity, in reality the main role of colour change is for the purpose of communicating with other chameleons. There is striking colour variability within the Angel’s chameleon and the Oustalet’s chameleon, two sympatric species in the Mahamavo region. Novel experiments can be devised in order to research specific facets of communication and interaction and the role of colour. There are also three species of Uroplatus geckos that really do use colour and colour-change to maintain crypticity. One species is a dead-leaf mimic, a second is a twig mimic and the third is a bark mimic. Colour is variable within species and some change colour quite effectively. Phelsuma are a further group of reptiles (geckkonidae) in which there exists substantial colour variability within individuals. They respond to changes in lighting and temperature as well as potential threats from predators. Questions regarding variation in colour and how colour-change is being used can be addressed in all three groups. Colour can be quantified by using standardized photographs or by using a specialised reflectance spectrometer depending on the specific research question being addressed. Analyses of colour can use general linear models to examine variation in hue, saturation and value and look for statistically significant differences or by using principal components analysis to examine and compare entire reflectance spectra.

Extended Dissertation Summary

Madagascar Mahamavo Research Objectives

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).

  • Develop an independent research project and write a formal proposal
  • Attend lectures and field bases practicals on Madagascan ecology and conservation
  • Learn to identify the lizard species found within the Mahamavo forest
  • Assess colour variability and the ecological use of colour change across the different species of lizard
  • Learn how to use a spectrometer to quantify colour and  smart phones for data collection
  • Learn how to organise and analyse large data sets
  • Opwall fee
  • Cost of international flights into and out of Antananarivo
  • Cost of internal travel to and from the start and end point of the expedition, plus any hotels you might require. This costs around £275 or $400 on average. Extra nights’ accommodation in Antananarivo costs around £26 or $38.
  • Visa costs of €25 (30 days) or €35 (30-60 days) to be paid in cash on arrival in Madagascar.
  • Park entrance fees – £20 or $29.
  • Vaccinations and prophylactic medicines – cost can vary depending on your healthcare provider.
  • All prices in GBP or USD unless specified. Visa costs are all in EUR.

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.

Creature comforts
Facilities are basic (tents, bucket showers, long drop toilets). The site has no phone signal or wifi.


  • Madagascar
  • Antafiameva
  • Mariarano
  • Matsedroy

Want to get involved with this project?


Want to get involved with this project?

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