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Sakalava rail
Sakalava rail (Amaurornis oliveri) in Besalampy wetland, Madagascar. Photo credit - Marc Rabenandrasana
Mahavavy-Kinkony wetlands in Madagascar. photo credit - Marc Rabenandrasana

Press Release - 01 February 2008

Biodiversity in Madagascar: new project explores genetic ‘landscape’ of wetland birds

Researchers from the universities of Bath and Cardiff have been awarded more than £300,000 for a new project investigating the genetic landscape of birds living in the wetlands of Madagascar.

The project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will be the first of its kind to bring together field observations and genetic studies in order to map the genetic diversity of wetland birds onto the physical landscape.

This will give scientists important information about how genetic diversity varies over the landscape, allowing them to predict the affects of climate change and other human influences on future wetland biodiversity.

“Madagascar is one of the poorest nations in the world and as its population grows further pressure will be placed upon its important wetland ecosystems,” said Peter Long, the postdoctoral researcher from the Department of Biology & Biochemistry who will be working with Professor Tamás Székely on the project.

“The country is teeming with species that live nowhere else on Earth. It is one of the top biodiversity hotspots on the planet, and this gives extra significance to the research.

“By studying variations in the genetics of wetland birds across the landscape we hope to be able to reconstruct the history of Malagasy wetland birds and predict what will happen to them in the future.”

One of the birds they aim to study is the rare Sakalava rail which only occurs in Madagascar.

Using bird observations and environmental data they will model habitat suitability and assess how waterbirds have been affected by wetland changes.

They will then combine results from landscape ecology and genetic techniques to explore how wetland will be affected in future scenarios.

“The integration between these two separate conservation tools, remote sensing and population genetics, is a unique feature of our project,” said Mr Long.

The researchers also aim to train young Malagasy conservationists and researchers and hope to have a positive impact on Malagasy conservation authorities.

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