Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Biodiversity Lab Project
                                    V Grove

            In this lab project, I will discuss my findings on the characteristics of global biodiversity hotspots and identify endangered species in the area I have chosen (which is Madagascar). I will also try to convey some of the effects of human activity on biodiversity and why it is critical both for the people that abide everywhere on this planet to be aware of what we are doing and how it affects things.

            First, let me begin by explaining biodiversity hotspots. These are areas that have been identified as areas that are in need because of rapid decline of extinction, both in animals and plants, endemic to that area. There are two strict criteria that have to be met, in order to be considered a hotspot. One, the area must contain at least 1500 species of vascular plants that are endemic (indigenous) to that area, and Two, the area has experienced a loss of at least 70% of its original habitat.

Madagascar Island/virutaltripping.com/accessed 5/8/12
            Now, about Madagascar… Madagascar is off the east coast of Africa. It is isolated from the rest of the continent. It has quite the variety of ecosystems. There are many wetlands: lakes, marshes, swamps and lagoons. There are several moist forests: the lowland rainforests, coastal rainforests, cloud forest, Montane rainforest, Sambirano forest, etc… Then there are the spiny forest, grasslands, mangrove forest, and the list goes on and on. 

Baobabs/bingfotos.blogspot.com/accessed 5/8/12
            There are 13,000 plant species between Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands and 11,600 of those are endemic to the area. That is approximately 3.9% of the worlds total. In the plant kingdom, 6 of the worlds 8 species of baobabs are endemic. There are 40 endemic species of aloe and 850 endemic species of orchid.  In the animal kingdom, approximately 75% of the species found there live nowhere else in the world. The lemur is at the top of the list, with over 101 species and subspecies formally recognized in 2010, eight of which are in the critically endangered category. And many more are approaching this level. To back up, the lemur is a primate, classification prosimian. They are the oldest living primate in the world, dating back 65 million years. 

Deforestation/photos.wildmadagascar.org/accessed 5/8/12
            As you can see from some of the above numbers, Madagascar has met one of the criteria for being considered a hotspot. Now for the kicker.., experts are saying that the island has already lost 90% of its original forest cover! This is the main reason for the biodiversity decline – deforestation. 

            The Malagasy people, about 17 million, are very diverse themselves. A mix of  Malayo-Indonesians and African-Arabs. With British and French mixed in as well. Due to the island being along a major trade route, there have been numerous attempts at colonization. In 1794, the tribes were united, with a single monarchy. In 1820, Britain recognized it as independent. The French then invaded in 1895, and in 1947 there was a revolt that was brutally squashed. By the 1950’s, political parties took shape and in 1960 there was a peaceful transition to independence. That might have been the only time for anything peaceful. There has been incredible turmoil politically and economically in the last  several decades, with outbreaks of civil war. 

poverty/besorongola.wordpress.com/accessed 5/8/12
            There is extreme poverty in rural areas, although, when President Ravalomanana was in power, he instituted some broad civil reforms: democratization, economic liberalization, improved healthcare, road and schools and some bold steps towards modernization and safe guarding biodiversity. There are still many or the people that live close to the land, however. A mix of old and new.

            It is because of war and poverty that Madagascar is in the trouble it is in, with the decline of biodiversity. The biggest number one contributor to this decline being what is called “slash and burn agriculture”, in rural areas, by impoverished farmers. Other factors that have contributed include lack of access to family planning and reproductive healthcare, high fertility rates and minimal education levels.

            Now, is it important to be concerned about species extinction? The answer to that is yes, it is. When a species becomes extinct, it has a domino effect. So when one is wiped out, it affects another species and so on. Eventually, it affects our own human species with loss of homes, food, and even culture. Loss of species also affects health. Many of our medicines have been discovered first in the rainforests of the world. As these forests disappear, so does our ability to fight present and future disease.

Golden Bamboo Lemur/antpitta.com/accessed 5/8/12
            Madagascar is considered the world’s highest primate conservation priority. At the top of the list of critically endangered species in Madagascar, is the golden bamboo lemur. To help in the fight to preserve this and many other species, the Greater Bamboo Lemur Conservation Project and Saving Species teamed up.

    • They have restored critical habitat. In 2009, they planted a total of 476 saplings (19 species).
    • They continued reforestation in 2010.
    • They employed locals for fire prevention.
    • Set conservation boundaries – this is the essential first step to long term lease of the government to manage this land.
    • Inspired local people – the success of existing plantations has inspired local land owners to step forward, offering additional plots of land for future planting.
Ranomafana Ntl. Park/rxx.co.il/accessed 5/8/12
            Some of the other efforts of the government include the establishment of two National Parks, improving healthcare and family planning, and enabling communities to manage forest resources – establishing fish ponds, vegetable gardens, and fruit tree nurseries. Saving Species has helped to develop 40 community management plans, and worked with over 60 community groups, all with conservation and development goals, to become legal institutions.

            To the question, should I be concerned, even with hotspots in far away places? Of course, the answer is yes. We have always had extinction of species, approximately 1-5 species per year. But now, because of our own species and our activities, that rate has accelerated more than ever before with 10,000 – 25,000 becoming extinct every year. That is dozens per day. Living organisms play a vital role with major elements: carbon, nitrogen, etc…, as well as water in the environment. Everything works together, requiring numerous species, all interacting. It is the variety of genes, species, biological communities and their life-sustaining processes that give us food, water, energy, fibers, raw materials, industrial chemicals, and medicines. And all of this pours billions of dollars into the world economy. What happens when we have used up all of our resources? The answer is, we die. We become extinct. That is what I have learned from this project. And we take everything else down with us. As a species, we have to become more proactive in this fight to save our planet. The survival of future generations depends on it. 


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