Academy Scientists Teach Students From Madagascar Critical Steps in Tackling Loss of Biodiversity

SAN FRANCISCO (September 21, 2000)– With support from Lakeside Foundation, scientists at the California Academy of Sciences are training students from Madagascar to become Research Coordinators. At the San Francisco museum this fall, six Malagasy students will develop advanced skills to supervise entomology teams on the island of Madagascar. In recent years, Academy scientists have conducted field research in Madagascar, gaining a deeper understanding of the extraordinary biodiversity of the region.

The World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International have long recognized Madagascar as a "biodiversity hotspot" as many of the island’s species are endemic, found nowhere else on Earth. This is true for almost 99% of the insect and spider species found on the island. With most of the world's biodiversity residing in countries that suffer environmental degradation, like Madagascar, the worldwide race to understand life on this planet escalates every year. Academy scientist, Dr. Charles Griswold, Schlinger Curator of Arachnids, elaborates, "Ultimately, the fate of that biodiversity rests in the hands of people living in those countries. It is a local as well as global problem requiring local solutions. Training programs like Lakeside fellowships help aid these local solutions."

The Malagasy students will be refining their laboratory skills at the Academy of Sciences through October. After four months of sorting, preparing, and identifying insect and spider specimens from Madagascar, they will be ready to return home to form a crucial part of the team surveying the biodiversity of Madagascar. South African Aisha Fredericks finds that this experience has taught her "to think differently" and says the opportunity to study here has been the "best thing that has ever happened to me." Representative specimen collections from the Academy will be returned to Madagascar where they will form the foundation for a National Entomology Museum.

In December, Drs. Brian Fisher, Assistant Curator of Entomology, and Charles Griswold will return to Madagascar to collaborate with the field workers and to provide continued on-the-job training for the lab team.

Lakeside Visitors include: Helian Ratsirarson, Balsama Rajemison (Curator of the National Insect Collection of Madagascar) Daniella Andriamalala and Jean Claude Rakotonirina from Madagascar. Madelyn Peters and Aisha Fredricks from South Africa.