Despite the expansion of Madagascar’s protected areas, many palm species are still threatened with extinction, primarily due to forest degradation and destructive harvesting, reveals a study published in PLOS ONE. Eighty-three percent of the 192 endemic species are threatened, exceeding estimates for all other comprehensively evaluated plant groups in Madagascar.
“Definitive implementation of the new protected areas combined with local community engagement is essential for the survival of Madagascar’s palms,” says co-author Dr William Baker, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Palm Specialist Group. “The conservation of keystone species such as palms is of particular importance due to the potential consequences of their extinction to other species. Humans are among the organisms that rely substantially on ecosystem services provided by palms.”
In 2003, Madagascar’s government increased the protected areas surface from 1.7 million hectares (3% of the island’s surface) to 6 million hectares (10%) as many unprotected areas were found to be critically important for biodiversity. This extension of Madagascar’s protected area network is highly beneficial for palms, substantially increasing the number of threatened species populations included within reserves. Notably, three of the eight most important protected areas for palms are newly designated.
However, the level of protection is still not sufficient to prevent the extinction of Madagascar palms. To date, only one area has been accorded definitive protected status; the remainder are not yet formally designated and major threats to palms, in particular agriculture and biological resource use, persist in these reserves.
Twenty-eight species, some Critically Endangered, are not protected by the expanded network, typically because they occur in forest fragments far from protected areas. Populations in these small fragments of intact habitat are highly susceptible to environmental stochasticity and local extinction and therefore urgently require protection.
“We are very concerned about the many highly threatened species that are unprotected; some are only known from a few individuals on a roadside,” says first author Dr Mijoro Rakotoarinivo, member of the IUCN SSC Palm and Madagasacar Plant Specialist Groups. “Given the intensifying pressure from human population growth, compounded by projected impacts of climate change on species extinction, there is a need for prioritised action to save Madagascar’s palms.”
All Madagascar palm species were recently assessed in the 2012 update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM, with 32% of species classified as Critically Endangered, 23% as Endangered, and 22% as Vulnerable. Several cases of deterioration in conservation status due to deforestation and over-exploitation were identified. For example, Dypsis ambositrae, Dypsis ifanadianae, and Voanioala gerardii were all uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered.
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