What happened to Madagascar's forests? Historic deforestation and extinction in Madagascar.



Until recently it was believed that Madagascar's forests and extinct native species were primarily the victims of slash-and-burn agriculture by the island's first human inhabitants. However, new research suggests other factors may have played a role in the mass extinction of Madagascars megafauna and decline of Madagascar's native ecosystems, including:

  • Climate change (which may have triggered severe droughts in the past 3000 years).
  • The impact of the arrival of humans (including overhunting, biological invasions/introduction of alien species, the use of agricultural fires).
  • Hypervirulent/hyperlethal disease. (MacPhee & Marx 1997)
As stated by paleoecologist David Burney in an October 2003 press item from Fordham University:"What you have here is a domino effect, an interaction of multiple causes culminating in the extinction of these animals ... A problem that scientists have always had with the evidence was explaining how a small number of people with primitive hunting weapons could disrupt an ecosystem system so quickly. We found that it was most likely the interactive effects of human activities that account for the depth of these extinctions, which eventually eliminated the entire megafauna on Madagascar."

Madagascar's extinct megafauna included at least 15 species of lemur; elephant birds (Aepyornis), giant tortoises, and hippos.

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