A Madagascan Mystery: No Single Model to Explain Island’s Biodiversity

Biodiversity patterns observed in Madagascar are influenced by a combination of different mechanisms and cannot be predicted by a ‘one size fits all’ method, a study has found.

The research, published in Nature Communications, looked at over 700 species of reptiles and amphibians found in Madagascar.

The study examined a range of factors typically known to influence the diversification of species; with the researchers finding that no single model can explain the diversification found in different groups of animals on the island.

Madagascar is an island located off the southeast coast of Africa. It has long been a source of wonder, with about 90% of its animals found nowhere else on earth. For years researchers have performed numerous studies to try and understand how such an island, covering less than 0.5% of the earth’s land surface, can hold such a wide range of diverse species.

Researchers in the study used different measures of biodiversity to come up with their findings. These included the number of species in a given area, the number of unique species within an area and the similarity of species composition between different communities. By comparing their results with present day and historical environmental estimates, the team were better able to explain the biodiversity patterns observed.

The study showed that various groups of species are influenced by different causal mechanisms and the only way to accurately predict these biodiversity patterns is to use a model that combines the influences of several diversification mechanisms rather than just using one.

The research is important as it indicates that predictions for environmental fluctuations influencing the life on Madagascar will have to be made at a species level and cannot be generalised. Aspects such as climate change will not have a uniform effect upon species, with some groups faring worse than others.

Undertaking this study has contributed to a larger body of research that is currently ongoing. The overall project hopes to identify climate, geology and other features of the environment that help bring and sustain new species of flora and fauna to an area.

Read the paper in full at:  A necessarily complex model to explain the biogeography of the amphibians and reptiles of Madagascar

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Amy Moore

Amy is currently studying for a Masters in Science Communication. Follow her on twitter @_Amy_Moore91

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