Sunday, 30 June 2013

Imported Tortoises Could Replace Madagascar's Extinct Ones

Two millennia ago, millions of giant tortoises roamed Madagascar, an island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa that is rich in species found nowhere else on Earth. Those tortoises kept Madagascar's unique ecosystem in check by munching on low-lying foliage, trampling vegetation and dispersing large seeds from native trees like the baobab.

When humans began settling on the island about 2,300 years ago, Madagascar's large vertebrate populations were the first casualties. Dozens of species disappeared altogether, including 17 giant lemurs, three pygmy hippopotamuses, two aardvark like mammals, a giant fossa (a catlike carnivore), eight elephant birds, a giant crocodile and two giant tortoises. With their demise, the composition of Madagascar's ecosystems changed, shrubs and vegetation clogged the forest floor and wildfires became more frequent and intense.

Now, researchers think they've found a way to replace Madagascar's lost giant tortoise species: Bring in some relatives, says Miguel Pedrono, a Madagascar-based conservation biologist with the French agricultural research center CIRAD.

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