Notes from Madagascar (2)

Here is some more information about where have I been hiding all November.

I joint a course in Tropical Biology held by the Tropical Biology Association in the Kirindy Forest, on the central-western side of Madagascar: the map below shows where we stayed.

Visualizzazione ingrandita della mappa

On the left-hand side of the yard are the huts that served as classroom, lab and canteen, while on the right hand side, with a bit of imagination, you can even see the cabin where I used to sleep. We were lodged in the Kirindy Park’s tourist centre, namely a handful of huts in the middle of the forest. There was no phone line, no internet, and electricity only for a few hours per day; we had two buckets of water each for daily shower and laundry; water was made drinkable by adding a tasty, fair amount of chlorine to it. This accommodation with minimal facilities was just perfect: we had just what we really needed and, finally free from the ever-present technology, we could regain contact with nature. The forest was the source of our questions. Without access to internet, journal repositories and with only a few text books and manuals at hand, the forest also had to be the source of our answers.

The satellite image in the map above must have been taken at the height of the rain season. When we first arrived, before the rains started, the forest was dry and almost leafless: Kirindy is one of the last remnant patches of dry deciduous forest in Madagascar.

Soon after our arrival the rain came: in a few days, the forest transformed. New leaves and flowers appeared, turning the forest from beige to green. As if they were answering to a signal, all Kirindy inhabitants started roaming and looking for a partner. For weeks, walking in the forest was like being on the set of a continuous orgy.

This ever-changing place served as the setting for our course.

The first part of the course consisted in an overview about a variety of topics: Malagasy natural history, biodiversity and ecosiystem functioning,  pollination, seed dispersal. Our trainers: M.me Bako (Elizabeth Rabakonandrianna), a botanist at the University of Antananarivo; Gabor Lövei, researcher with interests in biodiversity conservation, entomology, invasive species (and much more); Christophe Thébaud, who studies ecology and evolution in bird communities (…and much more); Scott Armbruster, who introduced me to the magic world of pollination ecology. We also had the chance to meet Steve Goodman, the guru of natural history of Madagascar.

After this first stage, once we gained some confidence with the environment, we started developing our own projects in groups of two or three. I worked with my new friend and colleague Olive Imanizabayo studying the specificity and efficiency of pollination in two species of Dalechampia, a pantropical vine with a complex evolutionary history and an amazing diversity (more than 100 species). Quite a big leap from anything I am doing or I have done before! After all, the whole point of going there was to open to new possibilities.

I will tell more about Dalechampia‘s pollination ecology at some point.

I would have plenty of other incredible things to tell and strange animals and behaviours to describe. I am publishing some more notes about Kirindy forest and its inhabitants on Flickr, accompanied by pictures: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjD8dKL7

Links

  • http://www.vahatra.mg/: Steve Goodman’s association for the knowledge and the conservation of Malagasy nature and the involvement of Malagasy people in the process.
  • http://thebaud.weebly.com/: Christophe’s personal website.
  • Brian Fisher hosted us in his lab in Tana while we were writing up the results of our projects. He is a badass entomologist with a passion for ants and an appetite for adventure. This is a blog he held some times ago for the New York Time during an expedition in the wild region of Makay: http://scientistatwork.blogs.nytimes.com/author/brian-fisher/