Ecosystems in Madagascar

There are a variety of ecosystems in Madagascar:


  • Coastal rainforest
  • Lowland rainforest
  • Montane rainforest
  • Cloud forest
  • High elevation scrub
  • Sambirano forest

  • Dry deciduous forest
  • Limestone tsingy formations
  • Tapia woodlands
  • Spiny forest

  • Grasslands of the Hauts Plateaux
  • Palm savanna
  • Secondary forest
  • Western scrublands
  • Cactus scrub

  • Lakes, marshes, swamps
  • Mangrove forests

  • Coral reefs

    Map showing land cover / vegetation types in Madagascar

    Forest types in Madagascar

    Coastal rainforest
      Elevation: sea level

      These forests are some of the rarest in Madagascar. The
      Bradt guide describes these forests as follows: "Rooted in sand, washed with salty air, battered by cyclones and bordering lagoons and marshes the coastal forest harbors a very unusual community. The architecture of the forest is similar to the more widespread lowland forest, but the plants here are different: they are salt-tolerant and highly efficient at extracting water and nutrients from, the shallow porous sand beneath them." These forests are comparable in structure to the white sands or blackwater forests of the Amazon basin or the heath forests of southeast Asia.

      Examples: forests north of Fort Dauphin and around Antalaha/Sambava
    Lowland rainforest Montane rainforest
      Elevation: 800-1300 m

      Montane rainforest is cooler than lowland rainforest with a lower canopy (18-25 m) and abundant epiphyte growth (especially ferns and orchids), mosses and lichens. Many lemurs and chameleons are found in Madagascar's montane forests.

      Examples: Ranomafana, Andasibe-Mantadia , Montagne d' Ambre, Marojejy
    Cloud forest / High mountain sclerophyllous forest / High altitude montane forest
      Elevation: above 1300 m

      These forests are cool and often enveloped in mist. Trees are typically shorter than those of lowland forest resulting in a less developed canopy at a height of 10 meters or less. The ground may be covered with a thick layer of mosses and lichens and epiphytes like orchids and ferns thrive with the abundance of moisture from the passing fog. Characterized by rapid changes in temperature and humidity.

      Examples: Marojejy, Andringitra
    High elevation scrub
      Elevation: above 1300 m

      At the high elevations of Madagascar's tallest peaks, forests yield to a mosaic of stunted montane vegetation, lichens, peat bogs, and grasses, and rock exposures. In this zone you can may find orchids and miniature palm trees.

      Examples: Marojejy, Andringitra
    Sambirano forest
      Elevation: 0-1000 m

      Sambirano forest is found in the northwestern part of the island and serves as transition between the eastern moist forests and the western dry forests. These forests, especially at low elevations, are highly threatened.

      Examples: Lokobe, parts of the Tsarantanana Massif, region around Manangorivo
    Dry deciduous forest
      Elevation: 0-800 m

      These seasonal forests are found from northwestern Madagascar south to near Fort Dauphin. While less diverse than their eastern counterparts, the island's dry deciduous forests have high levels of endemicism and many species of lemurs. Deciduous trees lose their leaves during the 6-8 month dry season. When rains return these forests erupt in a sea of bright green leaves.

      Examples: Kirindy, Zombitse-Vohibasia, Berenty, Bemaraha
    Limestone tsingy formations
      Within the dry deciduous forests of Madagascar you can find the island's limestone pinnacle formations known locally as "tsingy." Because limestone is highly porous, these regions often wave well-developed caves and underground rivers. Similar formations can be found in China and Borneo.

      Examples: Ankarana, Bemaraha, Namoroka
    Tapia woodlands
      Visitors to Isalo will see groves of Tapia trees (Uapaca bojeri). These trees, resistant to the frequent grass fires of the Hauts Plateaux are known locally for their edible fruit and as habitat for a wild silkworm.

      Examples: Isalo
    Spiny forest
      Madagascar's most unique forests are also some of its most endangered. Madagascar's so-called spiny forests (or "spiny desert") are endemic to the arid southern tip of the island. Spiny forests are dominated by plants of the Didiereaceae family, which is unique to Madagascar as are 95% of the species found in this ecosystem. Didiereaceae closely resemble some forms of cacti but are not related. Unlike catci, Didiereaceae species produce small deciduous leaves which are protected by menacing thorns and spines that grow directly out of the plant's many branches. Madagascar's spiny forests are being rapidly destroyed for use as charcoal and building material.

      Examples: Berenty, Bezaha Mahafaly, Ifaty, Cap Sainte Marie
    Grasslands of the Hauts Plateaux ("bosaka")
      The central of highlands of Madagascar once had significant forest cover but generations of clearing for Zebu cattle and agriculture have left most of the countryside a sea of grass. Lacking roots to anchor the soil, hillsides slide away (locally known as "lavaka") leaving deep red scars across the landscape and eroding massive amounts of topsoil into rivers and streams. In some areas the French planted Eucalyptus and pine plantations to help stem erosion and provide wood for timber.

      Examples: Central plateau outside Antananarivo
    Palm savanna
      In western Madagascar slash-and-burn clearing has left a landscape of grasses and scattered palm trees.

      Examples: Region around Isalo
    Secondary forest ("Savoka")
      Savoka is the local name for the secondary vegetation that grows back after rainforest is cleared and burned. Generally vegetation consists of a limited number of weedy species some of which are exotic. Many plants and animals typically found in primary forests cannot survive in fragmented and disturbed ecosystems.

      Examples: Much of the eastern rainforest has been replaced with secondary forest. You will find savoka around most national parks having moist forest.
    Western scrublands
      Dry deciduous forests in western Madagascar have been burned and replaced with scrub vegetation that is neither attractive nor supports much animal life. In the region between Bemaraha and Morondava, dry scrublands may have scattered surviving baobab trees.
    Cactus scrub
      In southern Madagascar cleared spiny forest gives way to introduced cacti. In the area around Berenty cactus is some abundant is some areas you would like it a local species.
    Lakes, marshes, swamps
    Mangrove forests
      According to the Bradt guide, Madagascar has the largest expanse of mangrove forests in the western Indian Ocean -- more than 300,000 ha. Mangrove forest is found in silt-rich, saline (brackish water) habitats worldwide, generally along large river deltas, estuaries, and coastal areas. It is characterized by low tree diversity, almost exclusively mangroves, with a low broken canopy. Mangroves are evergreen trees and shrubs that are well adapted to their salty and swampy habitat by having breathing roots (pneumatophores) that emerge from the oxygen-deficient mud to absorb oxygen.

      Examples: Mahajanga, Marovoay.
    Coral reefs
      Madagascar has some 1,000 km of coral reef. Many turtles. Many sharks and whales.

      Examples: Islands north off northern Madagascar (Nosy Be and north); area around Fort Dauphin; Masoala; Ifaty region