Endemism in Madagascar

Endemism is the name of the game on Madagascar, the world’s fourth-largest island and home to some truly astonishing creatures. This endemism is a result of the fact that the island has been isolated for almost 100 million years, when it broke off from India. This isolation has led to an abundance of fauna and flora species that occur nowhere else on the planet.

Scientist recently discovered that this separation only in part explains Madagascar’s high endemism levels. A very intriguing fact is that many of these endemic plants and animals have very small distributions on the island, something that is called micro-endemism. The theory is that micro-climate changes and specific topographic patterns of rivers and lakes on the island led to specific adaptations in certain plants, birds and animals, in turn leading to brand new species over time.

Something else to ponder is the sad fact that since humans arrived on the island about 2,350 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90 percent of its original forests. We can only imagine what otherworldly creatures and plants existed before that time.

Today, Madagascar is rightly classified by Conservation International as a biodiversity hotspot. An almost unbelievable 80 percent of all the species (over 250,000) found in Madagascar are endemic! This includes:
• six endemic bird families and a full 120 endemic bird species,
• the cat-like, carnivorous Fossa,
• over 200 endemic reptile species,
• the lemurs, Madagascar’s flagship mammal species,
• 30 of the 33 worldwide species of tenrecs,
• half of the 70 bat species of the island,
• almost all of the island’s 290 frog species,
• more than 100 endemic fish species, and
• an incredible 12,000 endemic plant and tree species!

Endemism is indeed the name of the game on Madagascar!

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