Wednesday
Oct082014

Staff blog: Coral Disease

Coral reefs are the most diverse and amongst the most productive systems on earth. Millions of people living on the coast all over the world rely directly on coral reefs as a source of income as well as nutrition. In addition the revenue reefs generate in the forms of tourism, recreation, education and research is of major importance to their local and national economies. Current research also suggests that reef organisms may harbour chemical substances important in curing human diseases. Yet in spite of their obvious importance both to the marine ecosystem and to humans reefs continue to be impacted by anthropogenic disturbance; ‘the big four’ activities that threaten the health of the world’s coral reefs are climate change, land and marine based pollution, habitat degradation and over-fishing.

Many of the impacts of these activities are immediate and obvious such as smothering or fragmentation of corals to the point of mortality. However the more discrete and long term impacts of for example chemical pollution, nutrient overloading (from sewage or run-off from agriculture) and climate change are more insidious and their affects more difficult to understand and quantify. One phenomenon which has most recently come to the forefront of coral reef health research and management is coral disease.

Disease can be defined as any impairment to health that interrupts the physiological functioning of a coral, which in many cases can lead to mortality. Disease involves an interaction between the host, an agent and the environment. Infectious biotic disease are those that are caused by a microbial agent, such as bacterium, fungus, virus or protist; that can be spread between host organisms and negatively impact host health. To date the most infectious syndromes of coral for which causative agents have been elucidated have involved bacteria. In addition to the loss of coral tissue disease can cause changes in reproductive rates, growth rates, community structure, species diversity and thus through trophic cascade the abundance and diversity of reef associated organisms. While an unprecedented increase in coral disease has been well documented in the Caribbean over the last decade much less is known throughout the Indo-pacific.  However preliminary research across the area has revealed significant and damaging new diseases in many locations. Here within the Nosy Verona Bite off the north-east coast of Madagascar at sites surveyed by Frontier cases of infectious disease have also been identified.

Current research suggests that humans may not only be introducing new pathogens to the marine environment through aquaculture, runoff, human sewage and ballast water but may also be exacerbating existing opportunistic infections due to stressors such as poor water quality and global warming. With seasonal fluctuations in sea surface temperature and ongoing warming it is suspected that the few cases of disease currently recorded at Frontier survey sites could become more severe and more prevalent.

As of this phase of research Frontier will be surveying and monitoring disease in the area to record the current situation as well as any temporal changes. With anthropogenic factors having such an effect on the severity and prevalence of disease it is hoped that with more knowledge of disease patterns in the area, factors such as pollution and run-off can be mitigated. This can be achieved through improved reef management and land-use practices and can help protect the reefs from further damage and loss through disease.

By Jess, Assistant Research Officer

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Wednesday
Oct082014

Volunteer blog: Frances

Having wanted to come to Madagascar since I was small I still couldn’t have imagined how amazing this Island could be. From day one I was surrounded by mind blowing sights and creatures. Even though Air Madagascar had made last minute changes to our flight on the way over, I couldn’t help but smile when the plane landed (finally) and I was hit with the tropical heat. Arriving at camp was like stepping in to another world, hundreds of miles from the comforts of home. However, camp very soon became home from home and surveying became a job you couldn’t help but love.

Lemurs have always been the main attraction for me to Madagascar, but after spending 6 weeks living here I can truly say that they are just the tip of the iceberg. I could never have dreamed up some of the features of some of the magnificent reptiles found here. Two of which I find most fascinating are the Langaha madagascariensis and the Uroplatus henkeli. I didn’t think that I would see these in my time here, but in fact I saw both, and every time I saw them my excitement never waned.

The Lanagaha madagascariensis, only found here, with its unique elongated snout, is a sight that everyone must see, even if you don’t care for snakes, this one will intrigue you beyond belief. I will never forget that moment as well as all the other the other great memories I have made here. Madagascar is an island that changes your mind and view on animals and science. Before I came here reptiles weren’t of a great interest to me as they weren’t cure and fluffy, but now I can say that I have discovered some new favourite animals here, all of which are reptiles. It’s worth coming here just to experience the awesome world of reptiles.

By Frances, Research Assistant Volunteer

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Friday
Oct032014

Staff blog: Ghostly pipefish and their camouflage 

I spent a trip at the Tanikely Marine Protected Area searching for seahorses and the supposedly rare ghost pipefish, which I had just read about the previous week. I enjoyed the amazing reef with enormous fish and beautiful coral but sadly ascended without any seahorse sightings. However, the next week while on a search for fish and invertebrates at our Lokobe Reserve dive site I spotted two green weeds that appeared to be swimming in tandem.

I excitedly yelled into my regulator when I realized that they were actually the elusive ghost pipefish I had recently learned about. While not as colorfully patterned as the Ornate Ghost Pipefish, these Robust Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus) have adapted to look like their sea grass surroundings. Their swimming pattern when threatened also mimics the way that weeds float in water to trick their predators into thinking they are just weeds. They feed by sticking their long noses into the ground and sucking up tiny crustaceans, mimicking the way that sea grass grows from the ground. The only reason I first spotted them was because the two fish were swimming in unison before they saw me and played dead.

There are only five species of ghost pipefish in the world and due to them being masters of camouflage they are usually incredibly hard to find. So as of now, these amazing fish are probably the coolest creatures I have seen in my six years of diving and I am incredibly grateful that I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to see them. Unfortunately I will now go around believing that every weed is a ghost pipefish and trick myself into seeing them everywhere. 

 

By Frontier Madagascar Marine Staff

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Friday
Oct032014

Staff blog: My research project on serpent species

My personal scientific research project is based on serpent species abundance and diversity found in differential forest types ranging from primary Sambirano forest to anthropogenically affected regions, with a rapid seasonal comparison.

Literature has previously documented a decrease in biodiversity highly due to slash and burn, plantations and mosaic rice paddock agricultural practices which have led to the large areas of secondary forest. It is said that species typical of primary forest were replaced by those adapted to secondary forest giving a need for continuous species abundance studies in all regions of anthropogenically impacted forest. Previous literature studying serpent species alone on Nosy-Be is limited, with the primary focus on both reptiles and amphibians in general. Therefore such research could aid understanding of serpent species abundance, composition and diversity, furthermore seasonal assessments could highlight optimum environmental conditions for individualistic species ecology.

During the conduction of the study, I have caught individual snakes when sited in order to take details measurements including; species identification, total length (TL), snout-vent length (SVL), cloaca-tail length (CTL), weight (g), and age category. Further to this I have been measuring micro-habitat variables including time, ambient temperature, ground cover, GPS location and location of capture. These are in order to allow correlation relationships to be drawn and also to assess any difference in habitat between dry and wet season.

To date, with the assistance of Frontier RA’s, I have successfully caught and recorded data for over 30 snakes, in ranging habitats and several different species. Of the 21 species noted to be found on Nosy-Be, there are 12 species which are thought to be the most commonly encountered. Of these 12, so far, I have been able to capture all but on species – Stenophis granuliceps. The most commonly caught and also the most challenging is the Madagascar Hognose snake (Leioheterodon madagascariensis) and the most prized capture has been a male Langaha madagascariensis. That said, on a recent herpetofaunal survey in primary forest the RA’s and I encountered a juvenile Madagascar Tree Boa (Sanzinia madagascariensis voluntary) with a particularly elaborate phenotype.

Going forward, I plan to continue to catch and record data of the snakes found in the surrounding area of Frontier camp and look forward to encountering several different species in higher abundance as the seasonal changes falls. Further briefings and training session with the RA’s as they begin to assist on snake searches and with the scientific data collection in order to efficiently and effectively collect snake data. Using the GPS data collected I plan to map the locations at which the snakes have been caught and assess for any species abundance and distribution data. And finally I look forward to encountering the next especially interesting individual.

By Sham Mulji, Assistant Research Officer on Madagascar Wildlife Conservation Adventure

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Friday
Oct032014

Volunteer blog: Snake hunting in the jungle

We were 2 hours in on a so far unsuccessful snake hunt, when Alfie shouted that he heard something big moving in the bush. As we all rushed over with adrenaline running high, Assistant Research Officer Sham had seen and caught a massive ground boa.

Then, if that wasn’t enough, just as we were just getting over the astonishment of seeing a first Boa, another Research Assistant shouted that were was yet another Ground Boa a few feet away. Sham handed the first snake to Assistant Research Officer Tim and rushed over. Sure enough there was another boa, and after moving quietly towards the snake he then carefully pounced and managed to catch it. This second snake was slightly smaller but just as awesome.

With both snakes captured, excitement was running high and after taking data from the snakes, such as size, weight and GPS location we took the chance to take some photos. It was such a fantastic experience but like all good things, it came to an end, we released the boas back into the forest and I was left wanting to see more!

After spending 2 months in Madagascar, seeing humpback whales and animals which Frontier had never recorded before, this was easily my favourite moment!

 

By Dale, Research Assistant Volunteer

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