The Loss Of Madagascar's Unique Palm Trees Will Devastate Ecosystems

 The Loss Of Madagascar's Unique Palm Trees Will Devastate Ecosystems Dypsis decipiens - a highly threatened palm of Madagascar. Mijoro Rakotoarinivo, Author provided

Madagascar is a crucial diversity hot spot for palm tree species. 98% of the currently 204 known species do not occur anywhere else.

This high diversity is because the island – and its palms – had a long period of isolation following the break up of the ancient super continent of Gondwana. The humid northeastern forests of Madagascar have the richest species diversity, there can be up to 45 different palm species in one square kilometre.

Unfortunately, their uniqueness and prominence throughout Madagascar’s ecosystems have turned them into one of the most used and exploited plants on the island. Palms have multiple uses including; thatching, construction, for basket weaving, food and even medicine.

Threats to the palm

The situation is so severe that the latest IUCN redlist of threatened species estimated that 83% of the native species are threatened and on the verge of extinction. In the case of the Tahina spectabilis, for example, only 30 mature individuals are known to exist in the wild. It’s a particularly vulnerable species as, though it can live up to 50 years, each individual can produce flowers only once.

Palms are vital to rural people whose daily subsistence depends heavily on natural resources. They use palms to build their housing, for daily tools – such as brooms, strings or knife sleeves – and they also eat the palm heart. The palm is also valued by rural communities for its medicinal properties which can be used to treat coughs or digestion problems. Unfortunately, many of these uses are lethal to the palm trees. For instance, extracting the palm heart kills the tree.

Another threat is the introduction and success of Madagascar’s palms in horticulture. It started during botanical explorations of the island but, because of their ornamental value, the harvesting of palms for the international market has really exploded over the last 30 years. This has resulted in a huge amount of seeds being extracted from the natural habitat.

Unfortunately, seed harvesting is not always done in a sustainable way. Many collectors cut the palm trunk, killing the palm, for the whole head of fruit. Today, most of Madagascar’s palm species are sold in international markets and most of the seeds still come from the wild.

The high demand for the palms also mean that too many seeds are being exported. Collectors will often take most of the available fruits without a thought about the natural regeneration of the species. For example, few mature trees of Beccariophoenix madagascariensis now exist in its traditional areas – Mantadia and Fort-Dauphin. Or the majestic palm, Ravenea rivularis, this has seen a decline in its population because of its international popularity and seed harvesting.

And their regeneration is crucial. Palms are also victims of the massive deforestation that has plagued Madagascar since the end of the 19th century. The country has lost about 80% of its original forests.

Palms are slow growth plants. They’re ability to reach maturity often depends on the opportunity to reach the light after a gap in the canopy becomes available from the death of another tree. Therefore, the loss of mature palm trees constitutes an irreversible act for the population.

And when they are taken, it’s hard to keep them alive. Seedlings will rarely survive in disturbed or secondary habitats. In fact, 90% of Madagascar’s palms are restricted to humid forests and the change of the ecological niches from this primary vegetation type dramatically reduces their survival rate.

Their loss would be devastating as palms play a vital ecological role in Madagascar’s ecosystems. The loss of several species will undoubtedly have a huge negative impact on both the fauna and flora of the island. Their fruits are eaten by many animals, their leaves and crown are often used as nests for birds, insects, reptiles or amphibians. Studies for example show that the black lemur spend big parts of their feeding time eating fruits of the Dypsis madagascariensis when these are available. This illustrates how the absence of a particular palm species could lead to the extinction of animals dependent on it – whether due to the loss of adequate food, shelter or breeding habitat.

What must be done

To save this natural legacy, as stated by the IUCN, an action plan needs to be urgently set up. Conservation efforts must include local communities in the activities and be focused on raising awareness and increasing the species survival rate. For example, more research and projects need to look at how to improve the germination rate of seeds and how local knowledge can be integrated for their sustainable management.

Compared to other charismatic plants, such as orchids, research on palms has made remarkable progress in the last two decades. Nevertheless, expeditions in under-explored sites often reveal new groups emphasising the need to continue taxonomic – classification – investigations. Since the publication of the book Palms of Madagascar in 1995, about 34 new species have been discovered, these include a completely new genus (Tahina) discovered in 2007.

The ConversationCreating a solid botanical inventory of the palm will become an even bigger challenge with the huge natural ecosystem loss facing the island today.

About The Author

Mijoro Rakotoarinivo, Lecturer, Université d'Antananarivo

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

bokks_environment

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

green energy2 3
Four Green Hydrogen Opportunities for the Midwest
by Christian Tae
To avert a climate crisis, the Midwest, like the rest of the country, will need to fully decarbonize its economy by…
ug83qrfw
Major Barrier to Demand Response Needs to End
by John Moore, On Earth
If federal regulators do the right thing, electricity customers across the Midwest may soon be able to earn money while…
trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.