LATEST NEWS - Frontier Madagascar

MADAGASCAR FOREST: HUMAN'S INTERFERE WITH MADAGASCAR


On the island of Nosy Be, just off the coast of Madagascar, volunteers are continuing to assess the impacts of forest clearance, agricultural development and human disturbance upon the existing biodiversity (amphibians, reptiles, birds and more specifically the black lemur). More and more projects are being undertaken because some species are nearing extinction, and our volunteers are eager to find out why and how they can prevent this in their most recent phase of research.

To identify black lemur populations, volunteers have focused on analysing seed dispersal to identify territories and group compositions, as these animals are responsible for 88% of all seed dispersal in the area. These seeds are often found in lemur scat or from dropped fruit, and so volunteers hope to find a relationship between lemur territory and dietary habits due to the high level of human disturbance. Interestingly, the lemurs may become an essential part of the ecosystem in the future as they encourage general functioning by creating habitat corridors. A total of 40 hours surveying was carried out and 10.4 direct observational hours were then completed. When behaviour was assessed, all the lemurs seemed to do was sleep and rest! Unfortunately, results were found to be detrimental to lemur groups because deforestation reduces the overall amount of food available to them, and can destroy their habitat in which they sleep and interact with one another – an essential part of their daily life.

Similar impacts are affecting bird populations. However, results do show an increase in the total amount of individual species recorded since the last phase. Weirdly, the most degraded environments had the highest amount of species present. The most common birds were those with the largest distributions as they benefit from having an adaptable nature.

Six carefully selected sites were used for the mammal diversity tests, where small live capture traps were set up in the early evenings in many places to observe as many microclimates as possible. The majority of species captured were invasive, probably because they exist in large numbers outside of the primary forest.

Butterflies are known to be a good indicator species as they can react to very minor changes within their microhabitats as they are more attracted to lighter conditions. They are therefore extremely useful indicators when assessing deforestation, as more butterflies are generally present with less canopy cover. Volunteers are now comparing their new findings with old studies carried out in the same area to compare habitat degradation over a certain amount of years. 40 species were confirmed to be present, by sweep netting. Even though the sites surveyed had a high level of habitat degradation, they still held an abundance of butterflies, which is generally the opposite of other species.

Bat diversity has now been incorporated within this project. With very little information on bats in Madagascar, the volunteers are unsure whether Frontier has already sampled this specific species before. In the future, more detectors and equipment such as mist nets will be available, and therefore a better understanding would be achieved as to what role bats play in that particular ecosystem.

So all of these projects are set to continue, but will improve slightly by the addition of a GPS device, and therefore accurate mapping can take place. It will certainly be more fascinating to see a map of the areas which have been cleared and degraded, so we can easily identify how these areas of degradation correlate to areas of species decline, although species richness has not yet decreased which may lead to the conclusion that the range of species there are highly adaptable.

By Laura Robinson

Find out more about Frontier's Madagascar Wildlife Conservation Adventure project.



MADAGASCAR FOREST: BLACK LEMUR PROJECT UPDATE


The Madagascar Forest project (MGF) has been running alongside the Marine project since 2011 in Nosy Be, a site approximately 8km from mainland Madagascar. The Forest site is located on the outskirts of Ambalahonko, a small village in buffer zone of Lokobe Special Forest reserve. This reserve falls within the Sambirano bio-geographic domain, a moist humid forest landscape which is one of the last strongholds for Madagascar’s Black Lemur (Eulemur macaco macaco).

One of the key projects running in MGF is based upon the behaviour and seed dispersal capability of the Black Lemur. This endemic mammal is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to a vast decrease and fragmentation of its prime habitat and decrease in population. Whilst the Lokobe Forest is ideal for the Black Lemur, they will disperse into secondary woodland, fragmented habitat mosaics and agricultural areas when under pressure. Black lemurs are thought to be of particular ecological importance to the dispersal of native palm species such as the traveller palm (Ravanala madagascariensis), an abundant species around Ambalahonko and have been shown to be responsible for up to 88% of all seed dispersal within this habitat type.

Seed dispersal is particularly important for tree species around Ambalahonko, as being on an island, the population of most of the species is relatively low and they are more likely to be endemic specialists-making them more susceptible to the threats of climate change and human land use changes. The lemurs are integral to the propagation of species within the Lokobe Forest so are essential for the ecosystem health. This project looks to show the Importance of the Black Lemur in the expansion of primary Sambirano forest also in the regeneration of forest in degraded land. The Black Lemurs have been found to exhibit changes in feeding patterns habits in degraded and patchy habitats - so their ability to disperse seeds in obviously linked to the quality of the surrounding habitat or forest fragments.

Potentially, Black Lemurs are important in habitat remediation and if this project shows this over the duration of study, there would be a good evidence not only to protect the Lemurs from further hunting but also to manage the remaining habitat accordingly. Maintaining high diversity within habitat patches and improving connectivity through agricultural areas where there is forest nearby could lead to faster regeneration of a threatened habitat.

By Emma Gardner

Find out more about Frontier's Madagascar Wildlife Conservation Adventure project.



MADAGASCAR FOREST: BIRD DIVERSITY PROJECT UPDATE


Since the evolutionary appearance of the modern birds, Madagascar has been a geographically isolated island, separated from the nearest landmass, mainland Africa, by at least 200km of open ocean. Despite being in close proximity to mainland Africa, Madagascar has geologically been connected to the Indian and Seychelles Gondwana land block around 84 m.y.a. Its unique biogeographic history is evident when observing the native bird fauna, which is considered to be depauperate, or species-poor, with just 258 species (204 breeding species) despite the islands continental size and origins. However, nearly half of the species found on the island are endemic (115). Another very striking feature of the specialisation of these endemics is their dependence on forest environments, with 80 of the 115 endemic species (representing 37 endemic genera) being found only in forest habitats.

Madagascar is exhibiting rapid and extensive rates of deforestation; a direct result of the relatively recent colonisation by humans. This fact has contributed to making Madagascar one of the most important biodiversity conservation priorities over the past century. Historic estimates of deforestation are often highly subjective and even recent rates of deforestation are controversial and have often been hindered by lack of high quality data. However, recent analysis using satellite and aerial imagery suggests that over 40% of the remaining forest cover was lost between 1950 and 2000. This is an alarming revelation, when it is considered that an estimated 90% of species endemic to Madagascar are entirely dependent on forest and woodland habitats. Considering the high rate of endemism in the Malagasy bird community, and the continued threat of further deforestation and habitat degradation on the island, it is critical to monitor and assess each community in order to define future conservation strategies.

In this part of the study, point transects were conducted within 7 selected sites around the Ambalahonko region, with the furthest site bordering the Lokobe Integral Reserve. These sites were selected along a recovery gradient, from land currently under agriculture to forest which has never been cleared. At this early stage in the surveying, preliminary data suggests that there are fewer species present in less disturbed forest areas and more in the regions which are regularly visited, used or maintained by humans. Almost double the number of species was found at a plantation site, rather than the most diverse primary forest location. This plantation site, with a diversity of 29 different bird species is the most diverse location of the study so far. The second most diverse survey spot was the Mangrove site, which had a total of 25 bird species. The secondary forest and a pineapple plantation both had a bird diversity of 22 species, higher than both of the primary forest localities which had the two lowest diversities. During this first phase of surveying, a total number of 38 bird species were recorded in the Ambalahonko region, 15% of the entire Madagascan avifauna.

By Antoine Borg Micallef

Find out more about Frontier's Madagascar Wildlife Conservation Adventure project.



MADAGASCAR MARINE: NEW MANGROVE PROJECT ON NOSY-BE ISLAND


Frontier Madagascar has been monitoring mangrove forests since the year 2005. The project temporarily came to a halt in 2010 due to a change in location from mainland Madagascar to Nosy Be Island. During this new phase, the team has decided to start a new monitoring project on the mangrove forests of Nosy Be.

Mangroves grow on littoral tropical zones characterised by the alternation of tidal floods and the presence of freshwater influence. From a fish biology point of view, mangroves are located in estuarine zones and play a nursery role for many ecologically important keystone species. They exhibit particular features including an exceptional productivity and an enhanced role of protection for juvenile fish species against predation.

Numerous studies have reiterated the dependence of fish recruitment on mangrove ecosystems. Most of the commercially important fish species in Madagascar are found to inhabit these estuarine zones for most of their lives. On the island of Nosy Be, small-scale subsistence fishing accounts for a very large percentage of economic income for most of the coastal population. This is one of the main reasons why Frontier Madagascar has emphasized the need of monitoring the mangrove areas to assess whether these act as ‘fish nursery hotspots’. In parallel with broader economic studies and solutions, the need to undertake more localized studies based as much on local knowledge and biological surveys could in turn provide the basis for management decisions.

The monitoring of mangrove forests on Nosy Be has just started and includes basic biological surveys such as percentage cover of mangrove species, tree girth and height measurements, and identification of fish, benthic and invertebrate species present in the study sites. The rationale behind this background knowledge is to eventually accomplish a broader conservation programme with the involvement of local communities to allow the protection of these nursing grounds for commercially important fish species.

Community based mangrove management is a concept that has been used in many other parts of the world where mangroves are considered to be commercially and ecologically important. The rationale of community based mangrove management lies in the potential of local community involvement in accomplishing the vital activities of resources identification, priority development and choice adaptation of appropriate technologies for formulating and implementing sustainable management practices. Frontier has the aim of applying for a grant to conduct the next phase of the project taking their research a step forward and collaborating with a wider audience, including local communities and businesses.

By Eleonara Arcese

Find out more about Frontier's Madagascar Marine Conservation and Diving project.



MADAGASCAR MARINE: NEW TURTLE PROJECT TO BEGIN ON ISLAND OF NOSY-BE


The Madagascar Marine team are currently exploring the hypothesis of starting a new project involving the patrolling of turtle nesting sites on the beaches of the Island of Nosy Be.

There are two main species of turtle that nest in this area: the critically endangered Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the endangered species of Green turtle (Chelonia mydas). As these species are both listed in the IUCN List of Threatened Species, the need to implement conservation management strategies is very urgent. Frontier has been recently studying the behaviour of adults coming to the coast of Nosy Be to feed, and is now wishing to expand their research to the turtle nesting sites. The main objectives of this study would be to patrol beaches where nests are commonly found, with the clear commitment of involving business in the area (such as hotel and lodges) to contribute to the study.

The project structure and methodology are still being finalized at the moment. The team however, has been sending letters to hotels and lodges residing near the turtle nesting sites to inform them of what will be occurring over the next few months. They have also explained to locals that they would appreciate any help and any collaboration to make the study run smoothly. Frontier feels that this would be an opportunity to inform local communities and business about of the importance and the threat faced by marine turtles on Nosy Be Island.

The long term aim of the team would be to receive funds from interested organizations to be able to bring the project forwards. The team’s idea is to ultimately be able to tag nesting females to track them out in open water. This would give the team the possibility of shedding some light on the roots taken and places these animals migrate to, once they lay their eggs.

As there are many organizations who are interested in the mysteries that revolve around turtle behaviour, this could also be a chance for Frontier to share data about marine turtles and the reasons for which they might be coming back each year to Madagascar and if these numbers are increasing or declining. Furthermore, this could be the initial phase for implementing management strategies for the conservation of these species, ensuring the long -term monitoring of the populations in this area.

By Eleonara Arcese

Find out more about Frontier's Madagascar Marine Conservation and Diving project.



MADAGASCAR FOREST: AN EVER-INCREASING HERPETOFAUNAL DATABASE


Madagascar is already world renowned for its high levels of biodiversity and high degree of endemism, but sadly it is also becoming known for its ever increasing levels of deforestation. This process is occurring at an alarming rate, especially with the onset of increasing Malagasy populations over the last century. Reptiles and amphibians exhibit very high levels of endemicity in Madagascar, with 91 % (Raxworthy, 2003) and 99% (Glaw and Vences, 2007) being observed respectively in all species. The situation is worse for these two animal groups, as most species are forest dependant and are at a higher risk of extinction is deforestation continues at its current rate.

One of the aims of this project was to assess the impact of forest clearance on these animal groups, and in this phase of the project there were two new sites introduced and modifications to the existing methodology. As with the previous phase, the study was undertaken at sites around the village of Ambalahonko, in the commune of Antafondro, Nosy Be. The two new chosen sites were selected in order to provide more areas for comparison, as these new sites were almost completely untouched by agricultural practice so have never been cleared.

During this phase at Nosy Be, the team carried out a total of 60 time-constrained active searches, which consisted of a total of ten surveys for each of the six survey sites (eight during the day and two at night). The aim of the investigation was to determine if any differences existed in species composition or abundance within the reptile and amphibian communities across the selected survey sites. A significant change to the methodology was to sample the sites across a gradient of habitat disturbance, having selected enough sites to cater for high, intermediate and low levels of disturbance. Previously used sampling methods were retained, but in this phase sampling was limited to not more than twice a week and a recovery period of at least three days was allotted in order to reduce the level of disturbance.

The results obtained show that a lower habitat disturbance gives a higher abundance of individuals and a higher species richness. Species richness was found to be equal for secondary sites and plantations, which have an intermediate to high level of disturbance respectively. Some new species have been discovered since the last phase, such as the skink Amphiglossus alluaui. Such a find is very promising, as it allows the vertebrate database to continue expanding and providing more reasons for the conservation of this magnificent area.

Glaw. F. & Vences. M. (2007) A field guide to the amphibians and reptiles of Madagascar. 3rd edition. Vences and Glaw Verlag. Koln. Raxworthy. C.J. & Nussbaum. R.A. (1994) A rainforest survey of amphibians. reptiles and small mammals at Montagne D’Ambre. Madagascar. Biological Conservation 69: 65-73.

By Antoine Borg Micallef

Find out more about Frontier's Madagascar Wildlife Conservation Adventure project.



MADAGASCAR MARINE - PRELIMINARY ASSESSMENT OF TURTLE POPULATIONS: BEHAVIOUR AND SPECIES IDENTIFICATION


A preliminary study has been conducted on Nosy Be Island, Madagascar to record the occurrence of turtles and their behaviour as part of a future assessment of species status in this area.

Turtles play a crucial role in marine ecosystems across the globe. They are health indicators for these systems and are responsible for stimulating eco-tourism and providing economic benefit to coastal regions. Due to their mysterious life cycle, very little is known about their actual distribution and population numbers. There are however numerous concerns that revolve around anthropogenic activities which are causing the estimated population size to decrease in numbers. The employment of fishing gear on migratory routes, as well as the destruction and depredation of turtle nesting sites have all contributed to the classification of a number of species as “Critically Endangered” (IUCN, 2012).

Five different turtle species inhabit the waters of Madagascar: these are all listed as endangered in the IUCN List of Threatened Species. Recent studies on turtle nesting sites in Madagascar suggest that their numbers have been drastically declining. Part of Frontier’s Madagascar marine programme is to insure an active biomonitorng of nesting sites in these regions to allow the implementation of active conservation measures.

Turtle observations were conducted at six different sites on Nosy Be Island, north of Madagascar. Observations were made by an individual surveyor actively diving at each site for forty-minute bouts. Turtle species were identified and carapace and flipper lengths were measured. Behavioural observations were also recorded.

The results of the preliminary study show a higher encounter rate of hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and a lower presence of green turtle (Chelonia mydas). The results suggest that hawksbill is still prominently using Nosy Be as nesting ground and should be monitored more closely for active conservation strategies and plans. The reason for a higher frequency of hawksbill turtles is probably due to its exploitation of shallow coral reefs for resting and foraging. It is also possible that these animals have found refuge on this island from fisherman boats, nets or other sources of disturbance commonly found on mainland. Unfortunately very little is known about turtle behaviour and current studies can only speculate on the various reasons why these creatures choose particular areas to forage, rest or breed. As hawksbills return to Nosy Be for nesting during the breeding season, particular attention should be taken into monitoring this species as well as ensuring habitat quality management and a decrease of anthropogenic disturbance in these areas. The lower encounter rates of green turtle individuals could not be explained at this time. This could be due to numerous factors and further research would be necessary.

As these results are extremely encouraging and set the basis for future more in-depth studies, a further project proposal is being prepared to apply for funding in early February 2013.

By Eleonora Arcese

Find out more about Frontier's Madagascar Marine Conservation and Diving.



MADAGASCAR MARINE - CORAL REEF HEALTH MONITORING


The MGM team continue to monitor the health of the coral reefs of Nosy Be carrying out regular surveys of the benthos, invertebrate population and fish population present using Baseline Survey Protocol (BSP). This protocol involves five researchers carrying out different aspects of the data collection. The roles required include a physical surveyor, a benthic surveyor, an invertebrate surveyor, a territorial fish surveyor and a schooling fish surveyor. Each person is then responsible for recorded their relevant data for the area along and around the transect line for each dive site. Each transect consists of three 20m sections which are separated by a redundant 10m section and data is collected from the area directly beneath the transect line including invertebrates up to 2.5m on either side of the line as well as all the fish within a 5m¬2 box over the line ensuring as much relevant data as possible is collected using a consistent methodology across all the sites.

This phase the team were able to survey six different sites around Nosy Be Island in order to continue the monitoring of the health of the surrounding reef systems. The coral itself on the reef seems to be in good health; the percentage of live coral at the different sites (between 26 and 68%) compares well with the global average of 33% which was reported in 1999 – this shows that the sites are at least comparable to the average with some being above average. At the majority of the sites, the levels of dead coral were relatively low, however two sites (Home Reef and Three Brothers) showed dead coral cover being closer to 20%. Research conducted in 2002 showed dead coral cover in the area to be less than 10% in most cases – this shows that increase has occurred which should be a cause for concern. It is possible that this damage and so coral death is being caused by an increase in the number of local fishermen that use the traditional practise where rocks are utilised as anchors which can cause large amounts of damage to the system below those vessels.

The invertebrate surveys this phase showed a very limited diversity on the reefs. Low abundances of sea cucumbers were observed as many areas were dominated by the spiny sea urchin (Diadema setosum). The spiny sea urchin is often an indicator species for over-fishing and outbreaks can often occur having a very damaging effect on reef systems. These types of urchin tend to increase in numbers when their natural predators – the fish – are being removed from the ecosystem; this is usually a consequence of over-fishing in the area. Previous studies which were carried out in 2002 showed very low numbers of the spiny sea urchin whereas this phase’s research by the MGM team has showed the species to be present at every site. This is an important indication that management steps need to be initiated to control this increase.

The fish data also supports this observation as although the numbers and diversity of the territorial fish species were at good levels, however, the data also shows that there are very low numbers of schools of pelagic fish which supports the concern of increased fishing pressure in the region. The team are concerned about the level of fishing occurring in the local area with some sites being occupied by up to eight fishing boats at one time. Dives that have been carried out at a nearby marine protected area show large schools of pelagic fish which would also indicate that overfishing is occurring outside this area.

The team are currently working on determining the local stakeholder perception on their reef usage and the current status of the reef to see what needs to be done and within which group of people to ensure sustainable use and conservation of the reef systems is ensured.

By Charlie Outhwaite

Find out more about Frontier's Madagascar Marine Conservation and Diving.



MADAGASCAR FOREST - HOW IS HUMAN PROXIMITY AFFECTING LEMUR BEHAVIOUR?


The MGF team has been situated on the island of Nosy Be for over a year and a half now and their studies have drawn interesting conclusions, on species both large and small. With the focus on scientific work taking priority only recently has it come to attention the affect that their presence has had on the fauna. The study of black lemur, and hawk’s sportive lemur behaviour was at first concerned with preliminary data to be built upon in later studies, but when it moved onto a study of behaviour in areas of human disturbance the team began to notice some interesting things back at camp.

MGF Principle Investigator Sam has commented this week on the change in behaviour of lemurs situated closer to the Ambalohonko camp. The team has noticed that these lemurs are much less sensitive to human disturbance, such as noise and sudden movements, than the lemurs further into the forest, which scare away if the team does not follow quietly. Studies on habituated and captive lemurs have shown behavioural change due to environmental differences and proximity and interactions with humans. This may be cause for concern if work concerning true wild behaviour is to be carried out by the team, without bias caused by frequent proximity to researchers.

To understand the consequences that disturbance could have on lemur behaviour the MGF team is planning to travel to satellite camps on Nosy Komba, a nearby island, where lemurs are known to have altered their behaviour to the point of being called pets by people on the island. Nosy Komba translates to ‘Lemur Island’ and from our interviews with tourists and online research we can see why. On the island there are several places, big and small, where you can pay to have a lemur experience. This can entail just watching the lemurs as they play in the trees and eat food from their platforms put out by keepers, but in some cases the lemurs will eat out of your hand and climb on you as if you were a tree. The main problem here would be the inability of these individuals to fend for themselves if anything were to happen to their keepers. Research on other species, such as foxes, has shown development of behavioural traits detrimental to survival in the wild. The lemur behaviour on Nosy Komba will be far from what the MGF team have seen so far around the nature reserve where they conduct their research, and they are interested in carry out behavioural studies on these ‘friendly’ individuals to monitor the change in characteristics and perhaps find the cause for these changes.

With this information the team can advise the local people and visitors to camp on how to help the lemurs remain as ‘wild’ as possible so as to not cause bias in research, and to help retain a self-sufficient lemur population on the island.

By Grace McConnell

Find out more about Frontier's Madagascar Wildlife Conservation Adventure.



MADAGASCAR FOREST - PLIGHT OF THE MADAGASCAR FISH EAGLE


Exciting news from our Madagascar Forest team, the group have spotted a pair of rare Madagascar Fish Eagles (Haliaeetus vociferoides) this past week near camp. The pair have been seen soaring around the Ambalahonko village area and are expected to range across the entire island of Nosy Be. The species is critically endangered according to the IUCN redlist and is endemic to Madagascar where it resides down the west coast and in several protected areas.

Research conducted between 1991-1995, concerning the range and abundance of the species, recorded 99 breeding pairs surviving from 105 sites across the west coast. The non-breeding population is difficult to assess as immature individuals wander widely across the range and are harder to observe than breeding pairs which will nest together and become territorial in the breeding season (May-October). On the mainland it is found in wooded areas near water bodies with areas available for perching far above ground, and sufficient fish populations to find food.

Currently the main threat to the species is habitat destruction and competition for fish stocks with human populations. The rivalry over fish stock lead to persecution of the species in which local people would set traps, steal nestlings and shoot adults. The body parts and feathers of the eagles are also used in food and traditional medicine and are regarded as having spiritual elements by local communities in some areas such as the Antsalova region. These problems lead to a decline which caused a population crash which has been recovering slowly and there are now thought to be 120 breeding pairs in the country.

Conservation efforts range from releasing captive raised individuals to community awareness campaigns; although the persecution has only been reduced in a few places the release of individuals had a great effect, doubling the number of fledglings per nest for several breeding pairs. At Manambolomaty Lake which is a RAMSAR site, and holds 10% of the fish eagle population, a programme to reduce persecution among the local people concentrated on understanding taboos and traditions surrounding the species then offering alternatives and raising awareness for their plight.

Now that the team are aware of the presence of a pair on Nosy Be we can begin to assess how me might ensure their survival long-term. It is unknown whether traditions or persecution surrounding the species exist on Nosy Be, or whether the pair is breeding but a pilot study for the start of the breeding season next year may reveal more information for further research. A questionnaire will also be developed to assess community perceptions of the species on the island.

By Grace McConnell

Image courtesy of Frank.Vassen



MADAGASCAR FOREST - LOOKING AT THE RECOVERY OF REPTILE AND AMPHIBIAN COMMUNITIES FROM FOREST CLEARANCE


As we know, Madagascar is one of the “hottest” biodiversity hotspots on the planet. Is shows extremely high endemism in all areas of life; 51% in birds, 100% in terrestrial mammals, 91% in reptiles, 99% in amphibians and 81% in terrestrial plants. Out of all these endemic species it has been estimated that over 90% of these are dependent on the forest and woodland habitats of the island. Therefore, it is clear that in order for these species to survive, the forest ecosystems must be maintained before these unique species are lost.

Sadly, human colonisation has resulted in major deforestation of the forests and woodlands of the island and it has been estimated that if the current deforestation rates continue then Madagascar will be one of the areas that will suffer from the greatest species loss in the future. Although there has been some research into deforestation rates in Madagascar, much of the data has been lacking in quality, however a more recent analysis has been carried out using satellite imaging of the area and this showed that between 1950 and 2000 over 40% of the forest area was lost. This is massive area and would have been home to a vast range of species. Although some areas of forest are protected within reserves there is still a large area outside of these that are under threat. Forest clearance not only reduces the species present in that area but also reduces the quality and quantity of ecosystem services that were being provided by such a diverse area; this can include water quality regulation, soil formation and maintenance as well as erosion control and many other services. All of these aspects contribute to human well-being and will be greatly reduced by forest clearing efforts.

The Madagascar Forest Team has been carrying out research to look into the recovery of reptile and amphibian communities over a forest recovery gradient. This involved the collection of presence/absence data as well as abundance information over a number of different sites that were at different stages of recovery from being cleared for agricultural use to an area of forest that had not been cleared within local community memory. Searches were carried out within the areas as well as using pitfall traps which would act as a refuge for any species until they could be identified and then released.

Over all of the sites, 38 different species were identified however there was a significant difference in the number of reptiles found over the different sites. From the results, it is clear that different species are affected in different ways, with some species being able to recover more quickly than others. Some species however, were only found in those areas that had not been recently cleared; this included 2 species of chameleon. Other species were found in higher numbers in the older forest areas than in the more recently cleared areas including some chameleons and zonosaurus. It is these species that will be most at risk from forest clearance. Geckos however were found to be at a higher abundance in the cleared sites, this could be because they can get more sunshine in these areas or possibly because they are more easily spotted in the open areas.

Research will continue to assess the recovery of the herpetofauna in these areas and will provide information on species recovery after forest clearance which will be beneficial to the preservation of these species within Madagascar.

By Charlie Outhwaite



MADAGASCAR FOREST - NEW MOUSE LEMUR PROJECT


Claire’s Mouse Lemur (Microcebus mamiratra) was only identified as a species recently (Olivier et al. 2006) through the combination of reports on what were thought to be two different species of lemur. It is believed to be confined to the area around Lokobe Special Reserve, where Frontier Madagascar conducts their terrestrial research.

A new programme has begun to assist in studying this species, which is data deficient according to the IUCN. The project was set out to conduct a pilot study on this little known species concerning the effects of anthropogenic disturbance on behaviours. Data has been collected for the last 3 months concerning the behaviour of Claire’s Mouse Lemur, which is a nocturnal species, in a ‘disturbed’ site. The site was classified as ‘disturbed’ as it has been cleared, or deforested, in the past year. The data showed the various activities of the lemurs and what proportion of time was spent on each.

The site showed that the majority of their time was spent being silent, most likely listening for noises, whilst almost no time was spent foraging. This information can be used a baseline data for future study. In the next few months more sites will be surveyed to account for different stages of disturbance depending on the year since they were cleared. This will give us an idea of how sensitive Claire’s Mouse Lemurs are to disturbance compared to other species, such as Hawk’s Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur tymerlachsonorum) which has been studied in Lokobe for the past 6 months.

Through these studies we hope to gain an understanding of the effect that human are having on the reserve and surrounding forest as a whole.

By Grace McConnell



CORAL REEF MONITORING


Coral reefs around the globe are degrading at an alarming rate. Corals are important to ecosystem dynamics in that their survival, growth and reproduction dramatically influence the success of the entire community by providing inhabitable places for other species. Anthropogenic impacts on reefs range from recreational practices, such as diving, to water pollution from soil runoff due to deforestation. The effects of large scale projects can be seen on reefs. Run off from pesticides in agricultural areas can damage coral health, and deforestation causes soil to loosen and erode into nearby corals. This decreases visibility in the water causing less sunlight to reach reefs and aid in their growth.

Indicators of reef health have been long disputed. Individual coral growth was often used as a sign of a healthy reef. It has now been found that growth in the form of vertical expansion of a coral is not correlated with overall reef expansion and may have no relation to reef health, especially in polluted areas (Edinger et al., 2000). However, growth rate across a range of corals has been shown to indicate water quality in some studies. Percentage of live coral cover versus recently dead coral may be a better indicator of health (hard coral index) as it provides information about the coral species and not just the size of the reef and individual.

There have been calls for more standardized assessment of reef health, such as the Stony Coral Rapid Bioassesment Protocol, and ‘Reef Check’ (Hodgson, 1999). Current reef assessments are usually implemented with no clear purpose and using uncorrelated methods resulting in a failure to concisely monitor and acquire good results on coral studies (Downs et al., 2005). However, some studies are making advances to standardize methods and allow laymen divers to undertake research on reefs whilst diving recreationally.

Mainland Madagascar and outlying islets supports about 3,450 km of coral reefs, and Nosy Be alone holds 63 genera of corals. Up until 1999 in Djanrndjara on Nosy Be a sugar cane refinery pumped pollutants directly into a creek running to the sea. Actions such as these have degraded to quality of Madagascar’s reefs, and further monitoring is important to understand the health of reefs in this biodiversity hotspot. Frontier Madagascar is currently surveying between 5-7 different reef locations off the south coast of Nosy Be. The locations include fringing and patch reef habitats which have been subject to diverse anthropogenic impacts, such as overfishing, and river waste discharge. Monitoring of these sites will continue until the health of the reefs can be ascertained. Discussions with local fishing communities will provide further information on reef activities, such as shrimp trawling and commercial fishing, and aid Frontier Madagascar in preserving the corals for the future

By Grace McConnell

MONITORING LEMURS: A SCIENTIFIC AND SOCIAL STUDY


The Frontier Madagascar Forest Project has been studying the habits and abundance of lemurs throughout the northwest of Madagascar for 4 years. Though there are over 20 species of lemur, all of which are endemic to the island, Frontier has primarily studied the Black Lemur (Eulemur macaco). Studies have ranged from the difference between different vocalizations depending on time of day and group size, to measures of abundance in forest fragments.

The Black Lemur was elevated to species status in 2008 (Mittermeier et al.) as it was previously a subspecies connected to Sclater’s Lemur (Eulemur flavirons), which has a range west of the Black Lemur. Sclater’s Lemur has characteristic blue eyes, and is the only other primates apart from humans to display this quality. The Black Lemur is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN’s redlist of threatened species as its range is fragmented and is declining not only in size but in quality also. Their range is now less than 20,000km2 with slash and burn, and intense deforestation practices slowly degrading their forest habitat.

Frontier is now proposing more studies considering the seed dispersal ability of the Black Lemur. As the species exists in a wide range of habitats (primary and secondary forest, forest-agricultural patches and timber plantations), and has a diet consisting primarily of fruit (78%) it can be a robust indicator of edge patch regeneration and forest degradation. Monitoring the abundance of this species on Nosy Be Island, off the northwest coast of mainland Madagascar, will provide the scientific community with up to date data concerning the species and its habitat, and incorporate local community issues with crop disturbance by the species. The range of the Black Lemur on Nosy Be exists for the most part in the forest reserve of Lokobe Special Reserve, although individuals may stray outside the boundaries of the reserve to eat fruit from nearby banana and ylang ylang plantations. These plantations provide the livelihoods of many non-subsistence communities on the island and some conflict may exist where lemurs are viewed as pests. Although lemurs are not habitually hunted for bushmeat by local people there have been some cases of poaching in the parks. This is an issue that Frontier-Madagascar hopes to investigate in coordination with its study of Black Lemurs in Lokobe Park, to find out about any such practices in use, and whether they are ‘fadi’ (taboo) as is the case in many mainland areas.

With new projects on the horizon Frontier-Madagascar is tying community aspects to scientific projects in the hope that further understanding of the ecosystem, as a whole, can be gained.

By Grace McConnell

HABITUATION OF THE BLACK LEMUS (EULEMUR MACACO MACACO)


Madagascar is a vast island rich in endemic and unique species, but perhaps the most predominant and significant organism on the island are the Lemuriformes. There are approximately 100 known species of lemur, however problematic classification has caused taxonomic uncertainty within the scientific world. The name lemur originates from ‘lemure’ meaning ‘spirit’ in relation to the creature’s ghostly vocalisation calls - and it is these vocalisations that the Madagascan field team have recently been investigating.

Perhaps the most principal concern facing lemur populations is the escalation of forest degradation as a result of human encroachment. There is approximately 40246 km2 of unprotected forests within Madagascar, and with an accelerating human population demanding additional resources, these forests are slowly diminishing. From a conservation perspective, understanding the species occupying these threatened forests is vital for securing their future.

It is imperative that studies are conducted to assess the impact of human disturbance on populations of particular species. Through data collection it is possible to assess the influence of human presence to understand the longer term effects upon species living in close proximity to humans. Our research team in Ambalahonko, Nosy Be has been dedicating time and effort into assessing lemur populations and their vocalisation calls in response to humans at varying levels of human disturbance. Primates, including lemurs have evolved various strategies to minimise their risk to predation, notably vocalisation calls. These socially cohesive mammals elicit anti-predatory calls in response to threats, and thus assessing their response to humans is fundamental. Anthropogenic disruptions have prompted adverse effects on species behaviour, and repeated avoidance tactics in the short term could lead to long term impacts at the population level.

The Madagascar forest team have been closely surveying the black lemur (Eulemur macaco macaco), in differing levels of forest clearance. Group sizes and compositions have also been assessed. This primate is currently classified as vulnerable on the IUCN red list of threatened species. Interestingly recent news from the team reports an effect of lemur habituation. The black lemur elicited higher vocalisation calls in regions further away from human habitation, thus suggesting this species is eliciting a higher response as a consequence of lack of exposure to humans. Lemurs exposed frequently to human presence have severely reduced vocalisation calls, presumably demonstrating habituation. This finding is further supported by the reduction of vocalisation calls over time, as a potential consequence of familiarisation with the researchers. Repeated contact at a neutral level between primates and non-human primates have previously led to a reduction in fear, which ultimately could put individuals in jeopardy of poaching or other genuine threats. It is clear that humans are influencing lemur behaviour, and behavioural modifications are being observed over a relatively short period of time. Furthermore, initial human disturbance causes stress, provoking reduced reproductive success in primates. This stress also can potentially have an immunosuppressive effect, increasing the disease susceptibility of lemurs.

With only 10% of Madagascar’s land remaining as forest, destruction not only destroys habitats, but increases anthropogenic interactions. Behavioral modifications as a result of this close contact can have serious implications for the long term survival of the black lemur, and possibly many other lemur species within Madagascar.

The Madagascar team will continue to monitor the vocalisation calls of the black lemur in response to human disruption, and conservation efforts within the region will continue. Frontier runs a number of forest conservation projects, and offers a huge variety of other opportunities to volunteer abroad.

By Laura Burton

EXCITING BLACK LEMUR BEHAVIOURAL PROJECT TO TAKE PLACE ON MADAGASCAR


So far on the Madagascar Forest Project (MGF) several research studies are successfully underway. These include timed active searches investigating the effect of forest age and clearance on species abundance, setting up pitfall and Sherman traps, and bird surveys for which research assistants have been successfully trained for. With all this already underway, a proposed science program has already been set up for next phase including an exciting study on black lemurs and their behavior.

The Black lemur is endemic to Madagascar and only lives in the north western part of the island, including Nosy Be. This primate is currently classified as vulnerable on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list of threatened species. This species lives in both primary and secondary forests and is active both during the day and night. It forages in the upper and middle canopy as well as the understory. All these factors allow the species to be easily observed, therefore making it an ideal species to conduct research on. During the next phase there will be an increased focus on the black lemur and its behavior. The study will look into how their behavior is impacted by human disturbance. Data that has already been collected on black lemurs includes direct observations, playback experiments and the effect of noise stimulation of behavior. MGF staff have been in contact with the University of Antsiranana in hope of finding additional research possibilities which will be conducted in collaboration with them. MGF staff are looking forward to having a local Malagasy student working on a project originally proposed by Julien Godfrey, MGF’s Country Coordinator, which involves collecting ants from forest and cleared areas, to assess recovery of ant communities following clearance. As well as carrying out all current research projects, staff will be working with new assistant research officers (AROs) to help develop their own research projects and helping research assistants (RAs) with their own BTEC projects. Learn more on Frontier’s Madagascar Forest Project and other Madagascar projects including the Madagascar Marine Project and Madagascar Teaching Project.

Frontier runs a number of wildlife conservation and marine conservation volunteer projects in Africa and around the globe.