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Published: 2022-12-02

Scientists: Madagascar’s unique biodiversity in grave danger

NEWS Madagascar has an enormous biodiversity, with most of the plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth. But the rich life on the island is in grave danger and governments and environmental organisations must help. This is claimed by a large number of researchers, including from Umeå University, in the journal Science.

Text: Sara-Lena Brännström

In two new papers published in Science, researchers from Umeå University, Gothenburg University, Uppsala University and more than 50 other global organisations have undertaken a major review of Madagascar’s extraordinary biodiversity.

Their analyses show that overexploitation (the direct hunting and harvesting of species) and unsustainable agricultural practices affect 62.1 and 56.8 percent of vertebrate species, respectively, and each affect nearly 90 percent of all plant species. The researchers conclude that there is an urgent need for action.  

Analyses protected areas

One of the authors of the papers is Daniel Edler, a PhD student at the Department of Physics at Umeå University. He has analysed the protected areas in Madagascar, which currently covers one tenth of Madagascar, visualizing the evolution of protected area coverage in time.

“A significant work was to harmonize public databases of protected areas with local knowledge”, he says.

Madagascar is one of the world’s foremost biodiversity hotspots, with a unique assemblage of plants, animals, and fungi, the majority of which evolved on the island and occur nowhere else. 
“This review not only deepens our understanding of the richness and value of Madagascar's unique biodiversity, but also shows how preserving it must be based on the knowledge and needs of Madagascar's people”, says Daniel Edler.

Find a balance

Madagascar’s rich biodiversity, particularly its diverse flora, has provided many opportunities for human utilization. The challenge is to find a balance between use of biodiversity and conserving the integrity of protected areas. The majority of Madagascar’s over 28 million inhabitants live outside of, but often very close to, protected areas. These communities face challenges connected to widespread poverty, which itself is related to degradation of natural capital in the landscape, limited access to formal education, health care and regulatory issues including land tenure. 

The researchers frame biodiversity as the greatest opportunity and most valuable asset for Madagascar’s future development - a key resource for the sustainable future and well-being of its citizens.

“The landscape and biodiversity of Madagascar has dramatically changed during the last decade. It is unthinkable that we will lose this richness if no urgent actions are taken. We must look for urgent economic and social solutions to face the dependence on natural resources. It is the responsibility of everyone, including policymakers, local communities, civil societies”, says Hélène Ralimanana at Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre and first author of one of the studies.


FACTS About the scientific articles

Alexandre Antonelli, Hélène Ralimanana, Rhian J. Smith, Jan Hackel, Daniel Edler et al. (2022). Madagascar’s extraordinary biodiversity: Evolution, distribution, and use. Science.

Hélène Ralimanana, Alexandre Antonelli, Rhian J. Smith, James S. Borrell, Daniel Edler et al. (2022). Madagascar’s extraordinary biodiversity: Threats and opportunities. Science.