The dry forests of Mahamavo support a very diverse community of reptiles which occupy and share the same general habitat. Competitive exclusion theory suggests that sympatric species must partition their niches in order to persist in such close proximity, and the reptiles in this forest provide a great community to investigate how this occurs. In Mahamavo there are two abundant chameleon species, Furcifer oustaleti and Furcifer angeli. It is thought that Oustalet’s chameleon prefers more degraded forest to Angel’s chameleon, but additionally these species may be selecting different microhabitat niches in terms of height above the ground selected for feeding, branch thickness, ambient temperatures or structural complexity of vegetation. A similar situation exists with a pair of closely related skink species Trachylepis elegans and Trachylepis gravenhorstii which are both very abundant in the forest. It appears that T. elegans is more abundant in drier habitats than T. gravenhorstii, but the picture is probably more complicated at the microhabitat scale. There are also three species of leaf-tailed Uroplatus geckos: U. ebenaui, U. henekli and U. guntheri which share the same cryptic adaptations and feeding strategies yet differ markedly in size. Lastly, there are at least 4 species of fossorial skink in the area. Although seldom seen, these species are also presumably ecologically separated into specific underground niches. A novel excavation method has recently enabled us to find these species regularly and for the first time a project is feasible. With field data collected from a surfficient number of individuals, it is possible to compare niches and identify factors which separate species’ niches using principal component analysis, linear discriminant models or regression trees.
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.