Science Action: Madagascar

Madagascar is one of the most important conservation hotspots on Earth, with unparalleled levels of endemism in comparison to any other tropical island. It is the only home to an assortment of primates known as wild lemurs. The Field Museum has been a force in documenting and conserving the biodiversity of Madagascar for more than two decades. These efforts have been spearheaded by MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman, a leading expert on the flora and fauna of the island Madagascar and a staunch advocate for the advancement of national scientists who work to conserve the island nation's biodiversity. Steve has been with the Museum since 1989 and has lived and worked in Madagascar for most of that time. He has authored and co-authored many scientific papers on the island’s fauna and flora, as well as over 20 books including the landmark volumes The Natural History of Madagascar (The University of Chicago Press) and the recent Atlas of Selected Land Vertebrates of Madagascar, (Association Vahatra Press and University of Chicago Press).

In 1993, Steve helped to launch the joint Field Museum-World Wildlife Fund (WWF) “Ecology Training Program” (ETP) for Malagasy graduate students. In 2007, several ETP graduates formed Vahatra, a Malagasy-run organization NGO devoted to advancing scientific research on the island’s Malagasy biodiversity and training in conservation biology for national graduate students. Steve is Vahatra’s Scientific Counselor and serves as advisor or committee member for Master’s and Ph.D. students at universities in Madagascar and several countries in Africa and Europe, South Africa, and France. More than 120 Malagasy graduate students associated with ETP and Vahatra have successfully presented higher degrees within the Malagasy university system and, in a variety of positions, have infiltrated governmental and non-governmental posts to advance science and conservation on the island.

Vahatra also initiated important scientific publications devoted to the natural history of Madagascar and neighboring islands, notably a scientific journal called Malagasy Nature, and a series of field guides to the biodiversity of Madagascar, with topics including bats, small mammals, endemic birds, frogs, extinct animals and ecosystems, and carnivores.

Collaboration and capacity-building are central to these efforts and successes. The Field Museum laid the groundwork 20 years ago, but the commitment of Malagasy scientists to preserving their unique and fragile environment has been key to the extraordinary results achieved to date.