Madagascar has a wealth of habitat types and climatic conditions, explaining its status as a biodiversity hotspot. Madagascar is home to over 3,000 tree species, making it the tenth most tree diverse country in the world. Moreover, it has the highest percentage of endemic trees of anywhere in the world.
One of the unique ecosystems of Madagascar is the dry forest which covers over a fifth of the island, concentrated in the west and the south. Pressure on the ecosystem has increased over the last 50 years, with clearing of land for mining, conversion to plantations, exploitation for timber and slash-and-burn agriculture. For this reason, a collaborative project was developed, funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, to assess the conservation status of dry forest trees of Madagascar. BGCI worked with IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) Madagascar Plant Specialist Group (MPSG), Global Tree Specialist Group, Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre, Missouri Botanical Garden Madagascar Program and the University of Antananarivo (Plant Biology and Ecology Department).
Of the 982 dry forest tree species, 578 (59%) are threatened with extinction (Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable). Ninety percent of all Malagasy dry forest trees (884 species) are experiencing a decreasing population trend. The major threats to dry forest trees in Madagascar were found to be logging and wood harvesting, the increased occurrence of fire and the development of agriculture. All these major threats lead to destruction of the dry forest habitat and ultimately its conversion to a less biodiverse landscape. It is clear from both the threats and the uses that local communities depend on the forests as an economic and livelihood resource that needs protection for social as well as environmental reasons.
An ex situ survey using BGCI’s PlantSearch database found that of the 982 Malagasy dry forest tree species, 391 (40%) are found in ex situ collections. More is needed to protect the most threatened species as only 77 (22%) of Critically Endangered and Endangered species are found in ex situ collections.