Washington, April 11 : Conversation biologists, along with an international team of researchers have developed a new road map for protecting thousands of rare species that live only in Madagascar.
The researchers, including Professor Chris Thomas from the University of York in UK, have prepared a detailed conservation plan for lemurs, ants, butterflies, frogs, geckos and plants across the 226,642-square-mile island, considered one of the most significant biodiversity hot spots in the world.
According to some estimates, about half of the world's plant species and three-quarters of vertebrate species are concentrated in biodiversity hot spots that make up only 2.3 percent of Earth's land surface.
Madagascar, a developing country off the southeast coast of Africa, is one of the most treasured of these regions of biodiversity. An estimated 80 percent of the animals on Madagascar do not occur naturally anywhere else on Earth.
In fact, half of the world's chameleons and all species of lemurs are endemic to this island. They are joined by whole families of plants, insects, birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs that are found only in Madagascar.
For developing the conservation map, a massive team of researchers collected highly detailed data on the exact locations of animal and plant species across Madagascar.
A diverse group of 22 researchers, from museums, zoos, herbaria, universities, non-governmental organizations and industry, and from six countries, contributed to this new analysis.
They received help from an additional 62 collaborators who, in turn, were part of much larger research teams that often worked in rough terrain, and endured leeches and torrential rainfall, to collect the data.
They used specially developed software to estimate the complete range of each species, and to identify which regions are most important for saving the greatest number.
Species that have experienced a proportionally larger loss of habitat due to deforestation were given top priority in the resulting conservation plan because they are at greater risk of extinction.
According to co-lead researcher Dr Alison Cameron, of UC Berkeley, the new analysis maximizes the proportion of every species, so that they achieve maximum conservation, within the target of 60 thousand square kilometres set by the government.
"It is really exciting that we now have methods available to identify priority areas for conservation in the tropics, and especially in biodiversity hotspots, where the need for conservation is most urgent," said Professor Thomas.
"The next task is to carry out similar analyses for other priority regions of the world," he added.