Missouri Botanical Garden

The Vahinala Project: A Catalog of the Vascular Plants of Madagascar

Project Details

Grantee Organization: Missouri Botanical Garden
Grant Amount: $199,455
Contact: George E. Schatz
Contact Email: george.schatz 'atsign' mobot.org
Funding Dates: 1/1/08-12/31/10
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Background Informationmbot logo

Madagascar is widely recognized as a biodiversity hotspot of exceptional global importance. More than 90% of the roughly 14,000 known plant species found on the island grow nowhere else in the world, and new species continue to be discovered at an astonishing rate.  Despite its unparalleled diversity and endemism, Madagascar’s flora is incompletely described and documented; severely compromising the role that plant bioinformatics can play in informing conservation planning, economic development initiatives, and assessing the impact of biodiversity on human livelihoods. The Missouri Botanical Garden started the Vahinala Project in 2003  to address this problem by creating a comprehensive on-line authoritative resource for Malagasy flora that highlights what is known, and identifies knowledge gaps. JRS funded the project from 2009 to 2011 to expand the digital version of the Madagascar Catalogue of Plants and support increase involvement and training opportunities for Malagasy staff and stakeholders.

Key Objectives and Activities

  • The goal of the Vahinala Project is to create a practical, up-to-date, on-line synthesis of the flora of Madagascar for a diverse group of users, including ethno-botanists, conservation scientists, natural resource and protected area managers, and government agencies.
  • The web site includes information on the distribution of each species, vernacular names, conservation assessments, and bibliographic references, and will be richly illustrated with geo-referenced specimen images, color photos and line drawings.
  • Increased Malagasy involvement in the completion of core elements of the Catalogue, and incorporation of a new vernacular names component into the Catalogue.

Planned Outputs

  • Expand the Madagascar Catalog a tool which provides access to data on the endemic and naturalized vascular plants of Madagascar through the creation of additional species pages, digital image content, and a lexicon of vernacular names.
  • Prepare detailed Species Pages for all ca. 14,000 indigenous or naturalized flora in Madagascar.
  • Digitize collections of TAN at the Tsimbazaza Botanical Garden and TEF at the National Center of Applied Research for Rural Development, which contain more than 200,000 specimens.
  • Expand Malagasy Staff by two and add 5 new trainees. 2 of the trainees will receive additional training at the Musee National D’Histoire Naturelle in Paris.
  • Contribute ca 7,250 digital images of voucher specimens to the African Plants Initiative using a HerbScan unit.
  • Produce a lexicon of Malagasy Plants containing 9,000-10,500 vernacular names.
  • Create a Vahinala-wiki to provide a vehicle to capture and disseminate new information

Planned Outcomes

  • The Catalogue will serve as the backbone for the conservation of Malagasy plant resources by being a resource for conservation planning and the establishment of new protected areas under President Ravalomanana’s Durbin Vision
  • The Catalogue will provide information for a concurrent program to assess 3000 Malagasy endemic plants for the IUCN Red List.
  • The project will address human capacity needs by providing professional training opportunities for five young Malagasy trainees and a junior project participant, providing a basis for future research in Madagascar.

Results to Date

  • At the end of the funding period the Madagascar Catalogue Project website provided access to 26,050 botanical names, comprised of 245 accepted Family Pages (as well as 66 Family synonyms), 1,694 accepted Genus Pages (with 1,034 Genus synonyms, and 303 Genus placeholders for synonym species), and 11,285 accepted Species Pages (with 8,208 Species synonyms).
  • The Image Gallery contained 13,546 images, including 4,048 scanned specimen types and vouchers and 9,498 living plant images in situ.
  • The Vernacular Name database grew to over 12,000 names, with 4,700 names from literature and 3,800 names from specimens.
  • An in-country Madagascar Catalogue team was established to implement a broad and innovative program of outreach to a diversity of stakeholders.
  • The Species Guide to Madagascar’s Endemic Plant Families was printed to coincide with the AETFAT meeting in Antananarvio in 2009.

Primary Software Platforms

  • All information compiled for the Madagascar Catalogue is being made available free of charge through the Missouri Botanical Garden’s TROPICOS database.
  • The establishment of a Madagascar Catalogue Wiki will enable additional stakeholders to participate in the project by contributing supplementary data and observations on the plants of Madagascar

Lessons Learned

This project was considered successful by its team despite the political turmoil faced by Malagasy staff during 2009 and 2010. The staff and trainees were able to continue their important work and in fact, exceeded many of their targets for the Catalogue project. While the political instability resulted in some setbacks for conservation of protected areas, particularly in the illegal logging of rosewood and ebony species, the Red List Assessments this project supported helped raise awareness about these threatened species.The resolve of the project staff to complete their work in the face of uncertainty shows that important strides in biodiversity informatics and conservation can be made in even the most challenging of circumstances.

Notes from JRS

JRS is working to create grant summary pages for its portfolio pre-2012 and this grant was among the first grants in Africa for JRS and began a continuing interest in the biodiversity of Madagascar and the organizations who work there. We aspire to assess the access to and continued use of the product’s of this project including potential interactions with other JRS projects in Madagascar.  We also acknowledge that JRS played a supportive role to the funding leadership of donors such as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Marisla Foundation, and the US National Science Foundation.

Last Updated: February 28th, 2017

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