Madagascar Forests and Shrublands - A Global Ecoregion

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Sacred forest of Sakoantovo. Gift to the Earth Ceremony, Madagascar.
© WWF-Canon / Richard HAMILTON

About the Area

Due to long isolation from major landmasses, and the influence of geography and climate, the biodiversity of Madagascar is extremely rich and diverse across relatively small areas. The island-continent has evolved remarkably diverse ecosystems including lush tropical rain forests, mountain peaks, tropical dry forests, near-desert environments, mangrove forests, and coral reefs - each supporting a stunning array of unique species.

It is estimated that 85% of the island’s 12,000 species of flowering plants are found nowhere else in the world. This unique biodiversity has led to the recognition of Madagascar as a "living laboratory" and the "seventh continent".

This Global ecoregion is made up of these terrestrial ecoregions: Madagascar subhumid forests; Madagascar ericoid thickets; Madagascar lowland forests.

The Madagascar Subhumid Forests are scattered in several "islands" of montane humid forest throughout the central highlands of Madagascar. The lowland forests of Madagascar include a narrow strip of humid forests along the east coast, low elevation forests.

The Madagascar ericoid thickets are 4 large mountainous formations, called massifs that rise in scattered points from the island of Madagascar. The name of the ecoregion is based on its principal species of vegetation - thicket-forming plants of the Ericaceae (blueberry) family.

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Size:
313,000 sq. km (121,000 sq. miles) 

Habitat type:
Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests

Geographic Location:
Eastern and northern Madagascar

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered

Local Species

Filled with flowering trees, fast-growing vines, flowers, and tree ferns, the forests are a feast for the senses and a storehouse of wondrous diversity.

All 50 known species of the small primates known as lemurs, are found only on this island. These include:
  • The indri (Indri indri), the largest living lemur, which has a black fur with white patches.
  • Black lemurs that feed on ripe fruit, leaves, insects, and flowers.
  • The recently rediscovered hairy-eared dwarf lemur (Allocebus trichotis) that has long wavy hair around its ears.
Other significant species include Tomato frogs (Dyscophus antongili), Leaf-tailed geckos (Uroplatus fimbriatus), Velvet asity, the Madagascar yellowbrows (Crossleyia xanthophrys), and the critically endangered Golden Bamboo Lemur (Hapalemur aureus). These forests are also home to some of the rarest birds in the world like the Madagascar serpent eagle (Eutriochis astur) and the Madagascar red owl (Tyto soumagne).

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 Black & white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata), leaping between trees, Madagascar. / ©:  WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
Black & white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata), leaping between trees, Madagascar.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY

Featured Species

The Tomato Frogs (Dyscophus antongili) occur on the east coast of Madagascar, which is subjected to rainfall throughout the year and constant temperatures of 25-30°C. They occur amongst a range of vegetation on the forest floor, but usually close to or in shallow water. Females reach 105mm in length, whilst males rarely exceed 65mm.

The back is orange-red and the ventral surface yellowish, sometimes with black spots on the throat. The Tomato Frog is a sedentary species, rarely moving far from preferred sites in the forest or close to shallow pools.

It does not climb and is not a good swimmer, preferring to walk or slowly hop. During any lengthy dry periods, these frogs will tend to burrow into loose surface soil and leaf litter, emerging after rain.

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Threats

The principle threats to Madagascar's biodiversity come from the small-scale but widespread clearing of forests associated with slash-and-burn agriculture and firewood collection. Villagers rely on many forest resources to meet their basic needs; the trade in reptiles and amphibians is also depleting wild populations.

Since the arrival of humans 2,000 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90%of its original forest cover and many of its endemic species. For example, the world’s largest flightless bird, the 10-foot-tall "elephant bird" Aepyornis, once lived in this ecoregion, as did the pygmy hippopotamus, the giant tortoise, and 16 additional species of lemur, including a giant ground-dwelling species.

Even now, virtually all the unique habitats and endemic animals of Madagascar face significant threats. It now has the greatest number of critically endangered primates of any country in the world.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / John E. NEWBY
Forest being burnt to create new agricultural land. Madagascar.
© WWF-Canon / John E. NEWBY

WWF’s work

Tourism provides more jobs than any other sector in Madagascar, a country rated fifth poorest in the world. Existing protected areas are not only the backbone of Madagascar’s growing tourism economy; they are also focal points for sustainable rural development.

Expansion of the protected area system is expected to provide further benefit through jobs and income opportunities, strengthening of the eco-tourism network, and much greater protection for biodiversity and maintenance of ecosystem services.

Local communities and government are cooperating, together with the NGOs WWF, Conservation International, WCS and local organisations such as Fanamby and MICET, to identify the most suitable sites to increase protected area coverage. A preliminary list of 20 sites has already been identified. WWF will work with the government and other partners to help mobilise the resources - both technical and financial.

Particularly important is mobilization of funding resources, to be helped through creation of the Madagascar Foundation for Protected Areas and Biodiversity, which aims to raise $50 million in the next 5 years.

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