FIU@Home: Explore Madagascar

Home is the first learning laboratory. This series brings opportunities to discover, explore and create to life-long learners everywhere. Through books, experiments, adventures and digital journeys, FIU@Home engages the whole family with fun, curated educational experiences.

While the cry to “move it, move it” with the quirky cast of animated lemurs from the movie “Madagascar” is the closest most people get to this remote destination, FIU scientists in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education’s Department of Biological Sciences are working hard to understand the many species that live there. 

Join them on a virtual tour of their field work. See them hang out with not just lemurs but dolphins, sea turtles, chameleons and the rest of the incredible diversity of animals the island has to offer. Explore the map to take a peek at a few of the many species found in northwestern Madagascar around the island of Nosy Be. 

Nosy Be Island, Madagascar, Africa
Coordinates: -13.390368, 48.201517

Map of Nosy Be
Click here for a virtual tour of Nosy Be. 

Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island. Located off the southeast coast of Africa, it is one of over 30 recognized “biodiversity hotspots” around the world. These are defined as areas that have lost at least 70% of their primary native vegetation but still contain over 1,500 endemic species of plants found nowhere else on earth. Biodiversity can play an important role in maintaining ecosystems and helps them resist change or recover from disturbances. Healthy ecosystems provide people with oxygen, clean air/water, pollination for food production and many more services. However, these biodiversity hotspots are in need of conservation measures as they continue to lose species. The importance of Madagascar as a designated hotspot is particularly high for groups such as mammals, plants and reptiles. 

Doctoral student Courtney Knauer, assistant professor Jeremy Kiszka and research assistant professor Cristina Gomes, work in the northwest of Madagascar on a small island called Nosy Be. 

Here they focus on studying three groups of animals that are of ecological importance.  

  • Sea Turtles
    Critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles are hypothesized to play an important role in coral reef ecosystems. Knauer uses two types of video footage to assess turtle behavior: focal follows and animal-borne cameras. Focal follows are when she actively follows a hawksbill with a GoPro for 30 minutes while animal-borne cameras are when the camera is temporarily attached to the back of the turtle to view their behaviors without human interference. These videos give insight into behaviors such as what hawksbills eat and how their specific foraging behavior may be influencing coral competition for space on reefs. 
  • Dolphins
    Over the last five years, locals have seen fewer numbers of the  endangered Indian Ocean humpback dolphin. This species of dolphin can be found very close to shore, making them highly vulnerable to human activities including small-scale fishing. Kiszka and his team conduct surveys to investigate the current population size by taking photos of the pod and later identifying individual dolphins by the unique shapes of their dorsal fins.
  • Lemurs
    Gomes and her team walk through the local nature reserve twice a day, gaining insight into the distribution of three endangered and endemic lemurs in Madagascar—the black, mouse and Hawks’ sportive lemurs. At night, they use headlamps to look for eyeshine to spot lemurs.

Dive deeper into Madagascar research and check out the different technologies scientists use:

  • Activity 1: Watch the following video from a hawksbill animal-borne camera. See what can be learned from observing this animal’s behaviors.  Then, like a field scientist, write down your observations like interactions with other marine animals and swimming patterns.
  • Activity 2: Watch the video taken during a survey for humpback dolphins. Count how many dolphins are actually in the pod.  (An expert’s hint: research how many times dolphins breathe before they dive again):
  • Join an Interactive Lab:  Marine research doesn’t always require a wetsuit, especially with the help of remote technology. Participate in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education’s Education Outreach “Tech to Protect” technology lab to get a glimpse of the many tools experts use to track, understand and better conserve these species.

All across the globe, researchers are investigating important questions and uncovering new discoveries. Follow FIU@Home for more virtual tours around the world.