Understanding where species are, why that is, and how this might change is essential for reliable conservation planning. Species distribution moles (‘SDMs’) are one way of approaching this. SDMs combine occurrence data (i.e. where we have observed an individual animal) with environmental data (e.g. climate, topography, land cover, vegetation properties, and proximity to forest edge) to construct and validate a statistical model that will tell you the probability of a particular species occurring in a given location in your study landscape and give you a ‘habitat suitability’ map for each species. Students on this project can study any or all of the following taxa: herptiles (reptiles and amphibians), lemurs, forest birds, or wetland birds (we recommend choosing just one of these groups). Students will have access to our extensive dataset, as well as actively contribute to data collection on surveys throughout the field season alongside the science teams. SDMs (using, e.g. Maxent or generalised linear modelling) can then be produced for each species in your chosen group and sub-analyses conducted for different families or genera, for example. Overall, this will give you a detailed view of landscape-scale species distribution patterns. The maps produced provide really useful communication tools to inform conservation efforts in our study area.
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.