Setting restoration targets to halt the decline of the world’s rarest bird

Theme: Biodiversity & Ecology
Primary Supervisor:

Vivienne Jones

Geography, UCL

Secondary Supervisor:

Steve Brooks


Project Description:

Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot. Endemism is extremely high, but rates of ecological degradation are also high with soil erosion and introductions of alien fish disrupting food webs and ecosystem processes. One threatened species is the Madagascan Pochard, an endemic diving duck believed extinct until rediscovered in 2006.

The population of about 20 persists on a single lake in the highlands. A conservation breeding programme was established to supply birds for reintroduction, but for this to be successful managers need better knowledge of the bird’s ecology. Baseline conditions for lakes need to be established and the timing, thresholds and types of changes need evaluating. This will allow relevant ecological targets for wetland restoration to be set.

The project will infer the recent ecological history from palaeolimnological methods providing a novel opportunity to answer some of the questions relevant to wetland restoration. Sediment cores will be collected from a range of near-pristine to recently degraded sites, and analysed at high temporal resolution. Past changes in erosion will be assessed from 210Pb dating and XRF analyses.

Changes in the ecology, including invertebrate, fish and plant communities will be assessed by analysing fossil remains such as chironomids, fishscales, diatoms and pollen. The project will involve field work in Madagascar and provides an opportunity to combine a palaeolimnological study with a current biodiversity conservation focus.

Policy Impact of Research:

The project will use a palaeolimnological approach to set reference conditions for a series of Madagascan lakes. Conservation managers will use these as targets for restoration to establish viable and sustainable breeding areas for the currently globally endangered bird, the Madagascan Pochard.

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