600 new species discovered in Madagascar over the past decade

By Ruth Hendry - 07 Jun 2011 22:9:0 GMT
600 new species discovered in Madagascar over the past decade

Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island, is home to a huge variety of species due to its long isolation from the continents. Species evolved on Madagascar that are found nowhere else.

In addition, there is a high diversity of habitats found on the island, from coral reefs to spiny forests. These diverse habitats support an incredible array of life.

WWF compiled a list of the new Madagascan species in their report Treasure Island: New biodiversity in Madagascar. Excitingly, 41 mammals were found - it is rare to find such numbers of undiscovered mammals in one country.

These mammals including Madame Berthe's mouse lemur, believed to be the smallest lemur in the world and weighing a tiny 30 grams. Scientists also discovered a colour-changing gecko to rival Madagascar's famous chameleons.

Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana, WWF Madagascar's Conservation Director said "This report shows once again how unique and irreplaceable the different ecosystems in Madagascar hosting all these different species are."

Despite the fantastic new species, the report also has worrying news. Madagascar's fragile habitats face numerous threats, but deforestation is one of the most serious.

Scientists suggest that the island has already lost 90% of its original forest cover. The majority of people use wood for cooking and building materials, putting enormous pressure on Madagascar's forests.

Civil unrest in 2009 damaged the tourist industry, which is centred on wildlife and conservation, leading to a valuable loss of income for people protecting Madagascar's unique biodiversity. Over 70% of species on Madagascar are found nowhere else.

With deforestation and habitat loss continuing at an alarming rate, these endemic species are under increasing pressure.

Droughts are causing farmers to abandon crops and practice unsustainable fishing methods. Already depleted fishing stocks are decreased even further.

"These spectacular new species show what's at stake in Madagascar and what can be lost if we don't save it" says Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana. "WWF Madagascar will put all its effort and money towards protecting priority land- and seascapes. By protecting the environment and the island's biodiversity, we are helping both the local communities and national government to attain more sustainable long-term development goals, and helping the world to protect irreplaceable natural resources."

Top Image Credit: Grey Mouse Lemur (microcebus murinus) © David Thyberg