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Flag of Madagascar

Madagascar is an East African Island adjacent to Mozambique on the mainland[1]. As a result of its remoteness and distance to East Africa's mainland, the island harbors significant biodiversity and endemism[2]. Madagascar contains five main biomes: tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, dry broadleaf forests, montane grasses and shrublands, mangroves, and desert and xeric shrublands[2]. The island's biogeographic diversity is accompanied by a high species richness[3], with the majority of species being endemic[4]. By consequence of the rarity of most species in Madagascar's waters and on land, around 538 species are considered critically endangered by the IUCN[5]. Madagascar has many organizations and projects centered around conservation and protecting its biodiversity. Some notable projects include the ALATAMANA project[6], the Lemur Conservation Network[7], Ary Saina[8], Project Palms (SEED Madagascar)[9], and the Rosewood conservation of Madagascar[10].


Madagascar is located in the Indian Ocean, 402 kilometres off the coast of southeastern Africa[11]. With a total area of over 587,000 square kilometres[12], it is the world’s fourth-largest island[11]. It is significantly geographically isolated from the mainland creating very high levels of species endemism on the island[2]. Madagascar is composed of five main biomes, and seven distinct ecoregions, as defined by World Wildlife Foundation (WWF)[13][14].

Ecoregions of Madagascar

Madagascar's Five Main Biomes

The central and eastern regions of the island are comprised of tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests (ecoregions: lowland forests and subhumid forests)[2], shaped by easterly trade winds that bring heavy rainfall as they meet with the steep topographical relief of the mountains[12]. The climate varies somewhat, with a hot, wet season and occasional cyclones from October to April while May through September months experience a dry, cold season[2].

The western side and the northern tip of Madagascar are dominated by tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests (ecoregion: dry deciduous forest)[2]. Since the central mountains create a rain shadow, this side of the island receives far less precipitation from the trade winds than the eastern side does, and as such has a drier, more arid environment[12]. As a place that experiences strong seasonality, the vegetation here is well-adapted to periods of drought, and trees will drop their leaves during periods of low water availability[2].

In the central mountainous regions, Madagascar has a few scattered patches of montane grasses and shrublands (ecoregion: ericoid thickets)[2]. Temperatures decrease with elevation, sometimes dipping below freezing[12] while maximum temperatures reach above 30 degrees Celsius[2]. As a result, vegetation of this biome must be well-adapted to temperature extremes at both ends of the spectrum[2].

There are also patches of mangroves (ecoregion: mangrove forests) found in the intertidal zones of Madagascar’s western coastline[2]. These mangrove forests are located in areas where coral reefs can protect them from ocean swells[2].

Finally, the southwestern end of Madagascar is mostly desert and xeric shrubland (ecoregions: succulent woodlands and spiny thicket)[2]. There is a double rainfall gradient in Madagascar, from east to west but also from north to south, with the southern region receiving very little rainfall and experiencing a long dry season[12].


Madagascar is one of the top 8 regions in the world where the highest species richness and amount of species not found elsewhere on earth can be found[3]. Research indicated that 92% of reptiles species, 68% of plant species, 41% of bird species[15], all amphibian species, all terrestrial mammal species, ​​74% of butterfly species and more than 90% of plant species living on the island of Madagascar are endemic [4]. This endemism is narrowed even further to microendemism, where certain taxa exist only in certain areas of the island and are nonexistent in other areas[4].

There are a few factors that contribute to this including species dispersal from Africa across the ocean for the past 65.5 million years, land bridges that used to connect South America and Antarctica, and the island’s disconnect from Africa that took place around 183 million years ago.

Species in Madagascar are still being discovered, with more than 615 new species found between the years 1999 and 2010[16] and many still are undescribed[4]. However, this is changing since Madagascar is a remarkable place to study taxonomic diversity growth rates within the laws of a single country[4]. There is currently a lot of research studies within Madagascar surrounding stochastic and deterministic influences on speciation[4]. Many biomes in Madagascar have sharp borders with each other [4] influencing speciation. High species turnover through the fragmentation of populations adapting to different climates in similar regions consequently result.

Origin of High Diversity in Madagascar

While Brazil is known for its significant species richness, Madagascar is only 7% the size of Brazil and has similar primate diversity and exceeds Brazil in endemic species[17]. Even more impressive is the fact that only 10% of Madagascar's land surface provides suitable living conditions for primates[17].

Diversity on this island is thought to have been aided by ecogeographic constraint, meaning differences of bioclimates in western (which is drier) and eastern (which is more humid) Madagascar effected diversity[4]. This means that a species having populations living in both the drier west and the more humid east will eventually become two different species through adaptations[4]. Nevertheless, a new species could emerge through allopatry while isolated in the dry/humid habitats without becoming adapted to it[4]. There are also changes in climates that have occurred more recently such as the formation of non anthropogenic grasslands which likely have formed in the past eight million years[4], causing species to slowly adapt to their new circumstances over time. Rainfall is particularly unpredictable in Madagascar[4] which could lead to unique species adaptation techniques such as an odd lack of frugivores on the island.


Since many species within Madagascar are only found on the island, many of them are critically endangered. There is a list of 538 species in Madagascar that are on the IUCN Red List that are either Vulnerable, Near Threatened, Endangered or Critically Endangered [5].

The lemurs of Madagascar are known as the country's flagship vertebrate species[18]. There are 72 species and subspecies of lemurs that range from the world's smallest primate to species that have been described as big as an airborne kangaroo[18]. A notable case is the Silky Sifaka, which is a type of lemur that has been called one of the world's rarest animals [19]. These many species of lemurs have made Madagascar the highest primate constellation priority in the world due to the lemurs being completely endemic to Madagascar and the country experiencing some of the highest rates of habitat loss in the world, with more than 90% of the islands' original natural vegetation already demolished [17].

Malagasy biodiversity is unfortunately some of the hardest to recover due to many factors including a lack of fire resilience, unique eco-evolutionary history, shifting nutrients, highly weathered soils, competition with invasive species due to evolutionary isolation, conservative growth strategies, and low seed dispersal due to a lack of crucial mutualism from endangered or extinct species that allow dispersal to occur[20].

Human Influences

Human History In Madagascar

Orthographic map of Madagascar centered on Antananarivo adapted from Wikimedia Commons.

Research indicates that humans first arrived in Madagascar during the late Holocene[21]. Archaeological research had found village settlements from around 1300 years ago, and people began living on the coasts around 900 years ago, with evidence indicating these people were of Austronesian and East African descent[21]. Further research had found genetic links to Island Southeast Asia and Oceania and East Africa, with only two of 41 genetic marks being found in the northern Indian Ocean and northwestern Europe, thus, reflecting a history of trading and European colonization[22].

In 1862, a treaty was signed between Madagascar and France, however unfair resource benefits afforded to France sparked protests by Malagasy people, and in 1896, Madagascar was colonized by France as protests within Madagascar for their sovereignty increased[23]. Malagasy people's living conditions worsened significantly, and although people formed organizations to fight colonization, they were unsuccessful[23]. After the Second World War in 1946, the Democratic Movement for Malagasy Renewal (MDRM) was formed in an attempt to fight for Madagascar’s independence, although this organization was violently eliminated by the French in 1947[23]. This movement was replaced by the PADESM (Part des déshérités de Madagascar) which sought to find an agreement with the French[24]. In 1958, Madagascar achieved sovereignty as a part of the French territory, with official declarations of independence occurring on June 26, 1960[24].

Indigenous Peoples of Madagascar

Over 90% of people in Madagascar are Malagasy, which includes approximately 20 different ethnic groups[25]. Some of the largest groups include the Merina people, Betsimisaraka people, and the Betsileo people[25]. Research on areas such as the Mahafaly Plateau, an extremely dry region in southwest Madagascar, demonstrates that local people have extensive knowledge with regards to land use and can contribute to sustainable land use management[26]. For example, their ecological knowledge is extensive, as they are able to determine when soil should be left uncultivated, determine how to improve soil fertility, utilize strategies for harvesting in unfavourable conditions, and more[26]. Local peoples also see an important connection between the land and cultural and spiritual influences, with this knowledge being passed down through generations in such ways that influences land-use actions to help protect the land[26]. Protected areas and community resource management, however, are often organized by people outside of Madagascar which gives little thought to local peoples. It is important, rather than rejecting local practices, to incorporate them in to management practices to achieve the best possible resource management and conservation[26].

Human Driven Consequences

The late Holocene period that saw human colonization of Madagascar had subsequent large impacts on ecosystems by anthropological activity[27]. Many species including giant lemurs, elephant birds, and giant tortoises were key species in southwest Madagascar and contributed to ecosystem function and maintenance, however, large animal species began to decline around 2500 years ago and many went extinct around 1000 years ago[27]. With these extinctions, particularly in the last 1,145 years, plants whose seeds are dispersed by animals have been steadily declining in abundance[27].

The settlement of Madagascar had many impacts on its ecology including increased abundance of grasslands, decrease of woodlands and dry deciduous forests, the spread of southeast Asian plants, and greater fire resistance of trees and herbs[27].

Mangrove forests contribute in specialized ways to their ecosystems and the deltas in Madagascar. They are important for coastline protection and drainage, as well as provide habitat for many invertebrate and vertebrate species[28]. However, over the last 15 years 45% of mangrove forested area has been lost due to human mass deforestation for resource use and production, regardless of the importance of mangrove species[28].

Another indirect harm humans have caused to Madagascar's ecosystems is the introduction of dogs. This increased competition of Madagascar's native predator species, introduced new diseases, contributed to diversity loss of native predators, and altered the overall ecosystem composition of the island[29].  

Moreover, the Tapia forests of Madagascar provide many economic and ecological profits to local communities by providing resources such as food, medicine, trade objects, and structural materials[6]. The Malagasy people interact with and help sustain this ecosystem using controlled fires to prevent infection of trees and eliminate invasive species, however, overexploitation, invasive species, and non-controlled fires by humans have been contributing to habitat degradation in this forest system that houses many native species[6]. More broadly, fire has become an increasing factor in environmental degradation. Over 95% of fires in Madagascar are caused by humans with the intention of clearing land for agriculture, collecting honey, political protests, and more[30]. These slash and burn practices have led to forest clearing, increases in grasslands, loss of native species, and overall threats to biodiversity and the socio-economic status of local communities[30].

There have been efforts made to instill Indigenous management practices to aid conservation of The Tapia forest[6], and environmental management in Madagascar in general, to increase Indigenous sovereignty and ensure that the needs of local communities are being met, rather than ignored or devalued[31]. Regardless, local communities continue to suffer as a result of habitat degradation, poor agricultural practices which have brought new species to Madagascar,[27] and lumber resource extraction and exportation, all of which have significantly altered ecosystem structures[32]. Ecosystem management continues to devalue or negate the knowledge of local communities which would otherwise prioritize ecosystem protection[33] in more sustainable manners[30].

Bushfire in Manantenina, Madagascar


Similar to many other African countries, the destruction and degradation of Madagascar’s forests along with soil erosion, overfishing, hunting, the introduction of invasive species, and increased agriculture demand threaten thousands of species with extinction[34]. Though all human-driven threats have serious impacts, Madagascar is in a severe state of crisis due to deforestation[34].

Humans arrived only about four-to-five thousand years ago in the transcendent forested land known as Madagascar [33]. The prevailing narrative holds that deforestation caused by colonization in Madagascar triggered an expansion of grasslands [33]. As a result, human impoverishment, economic activities, and population growth are generally considered to be the main causes of the degradation of Madagascar’s natural habitats [33]. It has been suggested that a major part of its original forest cover was lost with only 10% to 20% of Madagascar being forested today[34]. When considering that more than 90% of Malagasy species live exclusively in forests and woodlands, it is not hard to recognize the potential consequences of such a drastic reduction in tree cover [33].

Most deforestation in low-income countries like Madagascar is carried out via slash and burn[34]. This agricultural technique involves the cutting and burning of forests to create fields for crops that tend to fall after a decade [35]. Though this traditional technique has been a simple and useful tool to farmers for many years, the use of slash and burn practices in contemporary societies with growing food demand is hugely detrimental to the environment [34]. Farmers tend to shorten crop cycles and plant crops in poor locations which leads to low crop yield and soil degradation[36]. The nutrient concentration and flora composition in the soil are changed, creating effects that are long-lasting and difficult to restore[35].  

Deforestation in Madagascar has consequently put over eight thousand endemic species at risk [34]. The pinstripe dambo (Paretroplus menarambo)[37] once found in a small region of Madagascar is now only seen in captivity due to their complete extinction in all natural habitats [34]. Madagascar was once home to over 50 lemur species, though 15 have already become extinct because of human action [34]. Mangrove forests serve as storm protection and act as carbon sinks, yet they are harvested for wood to use as building materials and fuel [35].

Although deforestation and degradation of land in Madagascar have been ongoing, there have been insufficient interventions to reduce the magnitudes of environmental consequences [34]. It is imperative to stop deforestation in Madagascar to prevent the loss of animal species and loss of biodiversity [34]. Unless halted, deforestation will result in increased habitat loss, increased species extinction, negative impacts on the carbon cycle, and increased global warming [34]. Soon the fabrication of farmland will result in environmental impacts that could be irreversible [34].  


Tropical forests are ecologically important for maintaining high levels of biodiversity and hold the most vegetation carbon stocks in the world. Therefore, tropical forests such as the ones in Madagascar are important carbon sinks that have the potential to determine what happens during climate change.

Climate change has resulted from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities, commonly from deforestation. The consequences of a warming planet have already caused declines in many species with effects being more severe at higher latitudes. Narrow thermal tolerances of tropical species begs to question whether tropical species will be more or less resilient to climate change.

Global Warming In Madagascar

An old Baobab tree found in Madagascar.

Being a model region for species diversification, Madagascar is one of the world's most vulnerable regions to climate change[38]. The large mountain range running through the island from north to south and with varying wind conditions creates diverse climatic conditions experienced in Madagascar[38]. In recent years, the average number of cyclones with an intensity of three or four has increased, resulting in amplified ecological instability[38]. On this island, the population is increasing and causing an uptake in demand for energy where the current biomass already represents about 90% of the primary energy resources used with the Wood Energy sector, representing 93% of all energy transactions in the country[38]. As previously noted, Madagascar has the largest number of lemurs in the world, two thirds of all endangered chameleons, and contains 90% of other endemic species including plants, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians[38].

Research published in MDPI in 2020 demonstrated that the annual temperature of Madagascar has increased by 0.03 degrees celsius per year since 1901, along with an increase in rainfall prominently at higher elevations[39]. The increases in temperature and seasonality force species to shift their distribution, which could be limited by geographic and climatic barriers[40]. Most species are predicted to migrate upward as the climate warms[40]. Possible barriers to species redistribution on Madagascar could happen through the absence of land, prominent mountain ranges, and fragmentation due to deforestation[40]. These barriers prevent species from finding suitable habitats with lower seasonality and limit their ability to shift their distribution to track temperature changes, leading to an increased threat of extinction[40].

Endemic Baobab Species to Model Impacts of Climate Change in Madagascar

Global climate change has significantly affected the natural ecosystems of many endemic species in Madagascar including six baobab plant species[41]. Baobabs are found uniquely in Africa with high economic and ecological value[41]. They naturally work to keep soil conditions humid while promoting nutrient cycling, preventing soil erosion, and act as an important food and shelter source for many birds, reptiles, and insects[41].

The distribution of these endangered plant species is largely influenced by temperature-related factors[41]. Thus, the six baobab species were used to model global warming impacts in Madagascar[41]. Wan et al. (2021) used information on 245 occurrence sites of the six baobab species from online and field data to predict the impact of climate change on suitable baobab habitat[41]. Their research suggested an expected 40% or more loss in original habitat of the most widespread Madagascar baobab species due to climate change[41]. Warming temperatures in Madagascar are predicted to significantly limit suitable habitats, contracting available land mass for growth and increasing fragmentation due to loss of original habitats [41]. If climate change leads to the death of baobab trees in new habitats, the economic and ecological value of these trees may take hundreds of years to restore[41].


Since the 1990s, over $700 million has been granted to Madagascar conservation projects[42]. These initiatives seek to protect and promote the biodiversity and endemism for which Madagascar is well known.

ALATAMANA and the Small Grants Project

The Small Grants Project (SGP) partnered with the ALATAMANA to conserve the Tapia forests and Indigenous communities in the Amoron'i Mania region of Madagascar[43]. The goal of this partnership is to create an ICCA-GSI project in this area to protect the forest area by further supporting the Indigenous conservation and management systems that are already in place[43]. ALATAMANA is already an established union in the Amoron'i Mania region and is apart of the Tafo Mihaavo organization[43]. Tafo Mihaavo promotes the leadership of local and Indigenous communities in resource management, governance, and sustainability[44]. Fokonolona, a governance system of the communities in the Tapia forest, is a driving force of Tafo Mihaavo's values and practices. The ICCA-GSI status of this project will enhance the recognition and protection of the area in need of conservation, as well as bolster the Indigenous and local communities' sovereignty[45].

The partnership between ALATAMANA and the SGP facilitated evaluations and studies held by local governments to determine the steps to implementing the Indigenous conservation systems[43]. Presently, the governments of the area have ceded management of natural resources to the local and Indigenous peoples. Agroforestry training was provided to 500 people within the community with a concentration on Malagasy values.

The Lemur Conservation Network

Lemur Conservation Network[7]

The Lemur Conservation Network (LCN) work is to conserve lemurs and foster a community of education and collaboration on this topic[46]. They raise awareness of the conservation of lemurs and their population decline by providing a space to support conservation organizations through educational materials, and promoting the World Lemur festival. The organization began in 2015 by Lynne Venart and Kim Reuter to raise funding for the IUCN lemur action plan entitled “Lemurs of Madagascar: A Strategy for their Conservation”[47]. Furthermore, the LCN was interested in showcasing organizations in this field that needed promotion or help with collaboration on projects. Since 2021, it has become a USA-registered NGO[47].

Today, the LCN works with over 60 organizations, including the Aspinall Foundation, an organization that works to conserve specific lemur species by working with the local communities in lemur habitats[48]. Another organization is the Sainte Luce Reserve and Association FILANA [49]. The goal of this reserve is to protect the biodiversity of southeast Madagascar to preserve lemur populations. They do this through ecotourism, education, and maintaining the lemur population's welfare. The LCN also supports research groups in the field of biodiversity and lemur conservation, such as the German Primate Center and the University of Toronto[50].

Ary Saina

Ary Saina is a conservation group of Malagasy biologists that promotes conservation efforts in Madagascar to reduce the threats posed to its ecosystems[8]. The objectives of the group are to advocate for research, increase the skills of Malagasy to contribute to conservation, and conduct focused research on natural resource management and conservation.

Examples of projects done through Ary Saina include seed dispersal workshops, courses in Lemur biology and plant ecology, workshops in R, and workshops in writing research papers[51]. They also facilitate events that teach local villagers about rainforest biodiversity, conservation, and ecosystem services[52].

Project Palms

Project Palms was created by SEED Madagascar to protect the IUCN Red List palm species in Sainte Luce[9]. The species include Dypsis saintelucei, Beccariophoenix madagascariensis, Dypsis brevicaulis, Dypsis psammophila, Dypsis scottiana, and Dypsis prestoniana. The species conservation statuses range from Vulnerable, Endangered, and Critically Endangered. The palms are an important natural resource for the local populations in the area, and while the species are already of conservation concern, there is also proposed mining efforts in Sainte Luce that pose further threat[9]. Other threats include habitat loss forest fire.

The project began in August of 2021[9]. Project Palm is working to protect the palms by conducting a population census in five littoral forest fragments. They are also protecting the already existing palm trees, with a goal of protecting 50% of the established palm populations. Further, Project Palm is planting around 300 sapling of all species of concern. They will be transplanted in the already protected forest fragments. Through research, the team is generating knowledge of the species' germination, natural history, pollination, and dispersal[9]. As of 2022, the research methodology for the project has been completed, community consultations were done by November of 2021, and the palm census was initiated by December of 2021.

Rosewood Conservation in Madagascar (UNEP)

Andramena (Dalbergia normandii) is a rare tree only found in Madagascar which is assessed on The IUCN Red List as endangered[53]. It is currently only found in Antalaha and the Isle Sainte Marie in northeast Madagascar[53]. Its habitat is evergreen coastal humid forest, but is currently very fragmented[53]. Farmers of Madagascar have been trying to find a way to propagate this difficult-to-grow tree in order to conserve the species[10]. In 2019, a technique called air-layering was invented by a local Madagascan farmer that he had been developing for decades[10]. Since then, the team has propagated 2,328 new rosewood trees using this technique, with their survival rate being nearly 100 percent[10]. This project is being overseen by the United Nations Environment Programme. These trees have been harvested to nearly the point of extinction throughout Madagascar due to it being the world’s most trafficked wild product by value and volume as a very valuable “precious wood”[54]. Rosewood products are legal to sell as furniture, but the buyer may not know that the wood was sourced illegally by timber traffickers[54]. There has also been a significant amount of habitat loss for these trees due to slash-and-burn cultivation[10].


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Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This Tropical Ecology Resource was created by Paige Fanzone, Lauren Callahan, Lauren Roberts, Joelle Fiala, Kahsennaro:roks Deom.

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