Ants, and Wasps, and Scorpions, Oh My!

Photo:  Brian Fisher in Madagascar
Brian Fisher in Madagascar Photo by Marius Burger
Map:  Madagascar

Counting bugs to create conservation strategies? Sounds ambitious, but it's the technique Academy entomologist Brian Fisher, studying ants, has successfully employed to assess biodiversity in Madagascar. Now Fisher and Academy colleague Charles Griswold are conducting a comprehensive survey of creepy-crawlies to get an accurate picture of the country's biological health.

Today's conservation tactics focus on protecting the most biologically diverse areas, those with the largest variety of species. On Madagascar that means looking at terrestrial arthropods like insects and arachnids. Even though arthropods make up the majority of the island's animal life, they have received little attention-for example, Fisher and colleagues recently discovered over 500 new species of ants in eastern Madagascar.

Photo:  Academy expediton members
Malagasy, South African and Academy expedition members Photo by Dong Lin

The team, including scientists from Madagascar's Tsimbazaza Botanical and Zoological Park (PBZT), aims to identify all species of several arthropods including spiders, scorpions, ants, solitary wasps, lacewings, ground beetles, and various flies in the western and southern regions. By combining these data with previous counts from eastern regions, an accurate overview of the country's diversity patterns will materialize.

photo:  walking stick
Walking stick from Madagascar
Photo by Harold Schuetz

Madagascar lacks arthropod taxonomists. A major goal of this project is to train PBZT-Entomology staff, and students from the University of Antananarivo in collection and identification techniques throughout the three-year project. Also, the project will establish the country's first national arthropod collection.

The Madagascar project is supported in part by generous grants from the McBean Family Foundation.