MoBot’s Conservation Work In Madagascar Hopes To Combat Deforestation Woes
Ecologist Adam Smith has been studying the effects of deforestation in Madagascar to predict its future fate. Using computer models, he took into consideration roads near forests, consumption rates of wood, proximity to villages, wildfires and so on to figure out what the island’s future forest cover would look like.
What Smith found shocked him: The combination of deforestation and climate change ravaging the island’s forest provided a bleak insight to its future.
“Honestly, it was one of the two times in my life where I've pushed back from my computer in horror,” Smith said. “No matter what I did, even if I used, in a sense, the most optimistic scenario, I could not get the forest to last past the year about 2070. And it's not that this is going to happen; this is not a prediction — it's a scenario.
“Madagascar is one of the most biologically rich places on Earth. It was just maybe a crystal ball of a travesty happening.”
On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Smith joined host Sarah Fenske to talk about the study he co-published on Madagascar's rainforest habitat. Joining the program was botanist Jeannie Raharimampionona. Both Smith and Raharimampionona are researchers for the Missouri Botanical Garden, which is focusing a large part of its conservation efforts in Madagascar.
Over the years, the Missouri Botanical Garden has established 12 protected sites — home to roughly 50% of the plant diversity on the island. Raharimampionona’s goal is to set up 80 protected areas. The native Malagsy said the biggest threats facing Madagascar’s forests are wildfires, illegal extraction of its natural resources and invasive species.
Raharimampionona added that natives of Madagascar depend heavily on the forests for their living needs, so her work centers around involving the community in these conversations and sustainable living practices.
“We are obliged to do some compromise with the community, so we have to have community-based conservation. We are working to engage communities to be the guardians of these plants and these species. So once we arrive at a [protected site], we are negotiating and talking with people [about] the importance of these plants,” she said.
Raharimampionona has been praised for her conservation efforts on the island and achieved two high honors to show for it. The National Geographic Society recognized Raharimampionona for her conservation work in Madagascar by honoring her with the 2020 Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation. Only two awards are given each year: one for achievement in Latin America and one for achievement in Africa. She also received the March Award from the Botanical Gardens Conservation International.
She remains hopeful about Madagascar’s future because of the concerted effort to revitalize and protect the island’s flora, and a large part of that is because of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s exerted effort to provide opportunities for botany careers.
“When I was in university, only a few of us were working on taxonomy, on research, on plants. But now, I think that there are hundreds of students at university who really love to learn about plants, love taxonomy and care about forests, and care about all our natural heritage. So that's hope for me,” Raharimampionona said.
“It's for all of us to look after our planet, and the better we do, the better for all of us.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.