Changes to forest habitat configuration, such as forest loss and fragmentation create greater amounts of forest edge habitat. It is important to understand the mechanisms whereby forest edges affect edge sensitive species in order to better plan forest management for biodiversity conservation. Forest edges may experience microclimatic effects such as increased temperature or light intensity, or decreased humidity. These abiotic effects may extend tens to hundreds of metres into the forest interior from the forest edge, depending on the environmental variable, the vegetation structure and weather conditions. In this project you will test how species of either birds or reptiles respond by habitat selection to microclimate variation caused by edge effects at fine spatial scales. You will participate in biodiversity surveys and draw upon our long-term monitoring dataset of forest structural properties in plots, and either reptile route data or bird point count data. For many years we have measured ambient temperature and humidity at the exact location and time of each biodiversity record (e.g. individual reptile). You will also be able to use data from a network of light, temp and humidity dataloggers deployed across the forest, as well as thermographic camera data if you wish to investigate patterns of thermal heterogeneity in habitats. Micrometerological software libraries (e.g. microclima) can also be used to estimate the landscape pattern of microclimate variation from directly received satellite data and meterological observations made in the field.
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.