First inventory of Ankafobe highlights to importance of small forest fragments for frogs in Madagascar

by Katherine Mullin - March 31, 2021

After my first field season in Madagascar, I was in Cardiff mapping my sites on qGIS when I saw two habitat fragments north of my main field site Ambohitantely. They were adjacent to Route National 4 and labelled as Ankafobe reserve on Google. I thought, how had I not seen this the year before? So, I got to work trying to learn more about this site. It is managed by the Missouri Botanical Garden (who do a lot of plant-based conservation in Madagascar), in collaboration with the local led VOI Sohisika. I emailed the few contacts I could find online and put forward a research proposal to them.

No one had ever surveyed frogs in Ankafobe before, so they had no idea what species they had.

Ankafobe is one of Madagascar’s smallest protected areas, 133 ha, but the majority of this is grassland. It is hotly debated as to how much of Madagascar’s central plateau was once covered in forest, with increasing evidence that grasslands are native and historic. Likely the central plateau has been a matrix of forest and grassland for a long time. However, it is in living memory that much of the forest in the valleys has been deforested, so it is a known fact that there has been significant forest loss in recent years. Just 27 hectares of forest remain in the reserve, in the valley bottoms alongside streams. Sadly, despite protected from logging and direct burning, the forests are vulnerable to man-made fires which are carried across the landscape by wind. In recent years many of the tallest mature trees have been burnt. However, the management team have been developing cutting edge reforestation efforts, all at this tiny little-known location.

I knew these fragments would be interesting sites to add to my amphibian fragmentation study, given their small size and isolation. So off I went with my team to do a rapid amphibian assessment. This was an exciting opportunity for any ecologist.

What we found was more surprising than I ever expected; the Critically Endangered EDGE species Anilany helenae was locally abundant in one of the fragments. Who would have thought?! This species was previously thought to be a microendemic (only found in) Ambohitantely Special Reserve, 10km south east of Ankafobe. This finding extends the species’ range to another protected area and helps safeguard the species. It makes you wonder what other un-surveyed remnant fragments across the central plateau may be home to this tiny (SVL 10-15mm) species.

We found a total of 14 species and predict there may be between 1 and 8 more to be found. Our surveys conditions were very dry, and so may have missed species who would normally be found through their calling behaviour, or those that rely on very wet conditions.

We also found an Endangered frog Boophis andrangoloaka, just one individual, which also extends this species’ range to a third known protected area. As deforestation continues across the country, these findings highlight the importance of small forest fragments for the conservation of Madagascar’s biodiversity. These fragments must be protected to avoid the loss of these unique species. The protection efforts ongoing at Ankafobe are inspiring, and it hopes to gain official government protected status soon.

We hope that the frog findings from this study will support this reserve in their ongoing conservation efforts. Watch this space for our large-scale habitat fragmentation study in which the data from Ankafobe is included. Our open access paper can be seen here: Mullin et al. 2021

About the author

Since I was 19 when I embarked upon my first independent long trip, I have been hooked on backpacking. This, combined with my passion for wildlife conservation has taken me to over 30 countries and 5 of the 7 continents. I have been lucky to travel to and work in the rainforests of Peru, Malaysia, Indonesia and Madagascar, where I am now conducting my PhD research. I am a PhD student from Cardiff University, working in collaboration with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

You can read other posts from Kat’s PhD research in our blog here and here. Kat Mullin writes a blog about her experiences in Madagascar: life, work, travels and frogs. You can read her stories here: katribbetson.wordpress.com

Photo credits: Manoa G. Rakotomanga.