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Scientists Map Madagascar's Unique Species


An international team of scientists has conducted an exhaustive survey of Madagascar's thousands of endangered plant and animal species. The information will be used to protect the creatures and vegetation that are unique to Madagascar, an island nation off the southeast coast of Africa. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

The 22 researchers that created the survey are hoping it will help with the conservation of more than 2,300 species of plants and animals that are found only in Madagascar.

The endangered species include tree-dwelling lemurs, ants, butterflies, frogs, geckos and plants that live throughout the island nation located in the Indian Ocean.

Only 587,000 square kilometers in size, Madagascar is considered one of the most significant of the so-called biodiversity "hot spots," threatened areas of the world that are among the most biologically rich.

Conservation of Biology Professor Claire Kremen, of the University of California Berkeley, led the study. She says conservation efforts have traditionally focused on setting aside a parcel of land to protect a single species.

But Kremen says the Madagascar project is the first national scale analysis of thousands of endangered plant and animals species.

"We had a lot of species and we wanted to use the data at the finest scale that we possibly could, at the most precise scale and the most detailed scale," she said. "And that means that the computational problem becomes very large. And that why one of the big advances was the availability of a new piece of software that allowed us to tackle so many species over such a large area and with so much detail or at such a fine resolution."

A large team of researchers pulled together detailed data to determine the exact location of each species across Madagascar.

The investigators then used specially designed computer software to identify plants and animals that had suffered the greatest loss due to deforestation and areas in need of the most protection.

Kremen says a similar method can be used to develop plans to protect endangered animals and plants in other biodiversity "hotspots" around the world.

About half the world's plant species and three-quarters of vertebrate animals are concentrated in "hotspots" that make up only 2.3 percent of the Earth's land surface.

The researchers describe their analysis of Madagascar's endangered species in this week's issue of the journal Science.

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