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Using a surviving lineage of Madagascar's vanished megafauna for ecological restoration

Pedrono M., Griffiths O.L., Clausen A., Smith L.L., Griffiths C.J., Wilmé L., Burney D.A.. 2013. Biological Conservation, 159 : p. 501-506.

DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2012.11.027

The extinctions of keystone megafauna during the Pleistocene and Holocene continue to affect extant species and ecosystems. This is particularly acute in southern and western Madagascar where two now extinct species of giant tortoises were once amongst the most dominant herbivores. The extinct giant tortoises are likely to have influenced ecosystem processes by being effective dispersers of large seeds, keeping the understorey open, cycling nutrients, and indirectly regulating fire regimes. As a result of their extinction, ecological interactions and ecosystems have been altered. Given that there is evidence that the extant Aldabran giant tortoise, Aldabrachelys gigantea, is closely related to at least one of these Madagascan giant tortoises, Aldabrachelys abrupta, we propose using captive Aldabran giant tortoises to restore missing ecological functions. This ambitious approach will represent the first continental island restoration project with a surviving lineage of now extinct, endemic megafauna. Translocation of this megafauna species could be a pragmatic and cost-effective tool to contribute to halting the ongoing extinction processes in parts of western and southern Madagascar, and would further understanding of the role of these species in pre-human Madagascan ecosystems.

Mots-clés : tortue terrestre; Écologie animale; Écosystème; repeuplement animal; espèce en danger; Évolution; extinction des espèces; madagascar; aldabrachelys gigantea

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