Studying the effects of edge effects and fragmentation on animals and plants is essential for conservation efforts because it causes disturbances to communities across landscapes worldwide. Birds are often used as indicator species for overall ecosystem condition, with species from different ecological niches being impacted to varying degrees by habitat disturbance. The avifauna of the Mahamavo forests contains a number of range- and habitat- restricted species. Students working on this project will collect data on birds in the forest with our science teams using timed species counts and mist net surveys. The spatial data collected will be combined with trait data (e.g. feeding guild), with other surveys from the field seasons, and with previous years’ data to give a large dataset. Statistical models can account for species’ locations in relation to environmental data (e.g. tree size, canopy cover, distance to forest edge) to analyse bird communities in different parts of the forest, study how communities change across the landscape in relation to disturbance and how individual species’ distributions and niche overlap. These topics will contribute to our understanding of the avian communities of Mahamavo, in particular to determining the habitat preferences and relative impacts of habitat disturbance on the bird species from different ecological niches and of different levels of conservation priority.
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.