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Conservation in Mauritius and Rodrigues: Challenges and Achievements from Two Ecologically Devastated Oceanic Islands

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Mauritius and Rodrigues are among the last places on earth to have been reached by humans and yet are also among the most ecologically devastated, thus illustrating our great propensity to destroy the environment. Today, conservation approaches and techniques continue to be innovated, developed, and tested on the two islands, which consequently represent a kind of “conservation laboratory” for the tropics. Despite some notable successes, conservation problems on the islands persist and are being exacerbated by a low and declining commitment of the government to the conservation of biodiversity. In spite of the commitment of many government officers and bodies to addressing conservation challenges, their efforts are often curtailed by interference intense enough to make the officers yield to the whims of politicians and end up backing decisions that are detrimental to conservation.
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CHAPTER 6
Conservation in Mauritius and
Rodrigues: Challenges and
Achievements from Two
Ecologically Devastated
Oceanic Islands
F.B. Vincent Florens
Department of Biosciences , University of Mauritius , Réduit , Mauritius;
Université de la Réunion , La Réunion , France
servation problems on the islands persist and are being
exacerbated, on the one hand by a low and declining
commitment of the government to the conservation of
biodiversity, and on the other by an overwhelmingly
prominent conservation non-governmental organiza-
tion (NGO) that appears to be increasingly drifting
away from biodiversity conservation and towards self-
preservation. There is a growing need to shift the focus
of local conservation efforts away from the current
expensive, predominantly species-centric approach
towards a more all-encompassing and economically
more sustainable ecosystem approach. Some of the
missing ingredients for this outcome seem to include
involving alternative NGOs to carry out conservation
work, an increased capacity of the authorities to take
evidence-based decisions, and a reduction of the
powers of politicians, who, facilitated by the country s
laws, often interfere and pressure conservation profes-
sionals and scientists to produce outcomes that are often
contrary to the country s stated conservation policies.
SUMMARY
Mauritius and Rodrigues are among the last places on
earth to have been reached by humans and yet are also
among the most ecologically devastated, thus illustrat-
ing our great propensity to destroy the environment.
The resulting situation, with several species on the
brink of extinction, has attracted extensive conserva-
tion efforts, mostly from abroad. Some species near
extinction, whose situation appeared hopeless, have
recovered and represent conservation success stories.
Today, conservation approaches and techniques con-
tinue to be innovated, developed, and tested on the two
islands, which consequently represent a kind of “con-
servation laboratory” for the tropics. In some ways, the
islands could be seen as representing what awaits the
rest of the tropical world as the latter catches up in
terms of human overpopulation, habitat destruction,
and with fragmentation and alien species invasion
being accelerated. Despite some notable successes, con-
Conservation Biology: Voices from the Tropics, First Edition. Navjot S. Sodhi, Luke Gibson, and Peter H. Raven.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2013 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Africa: Conservation in Mauritius and Rodrigues 41
and why, leaving little ambiguity about the heavy-
handed role humans played directly and indirectly in
rapidly driving so many species to extinction ( Cheke
and Hume, 2008 ; Rijsdijk et al ., 2011 ).
DAUNTING CONSERVATION CHALLENGES
Except for certain recent conservation successes, the
two islands can be regarded as textbook examples of
what should not be done if we are to preserve biodiver-
sity and ecosystem functioning and, ultimately, our-
selves. Natural habitats on both islands were destroyed
for settlement or agriculture, the rate of destruction
jumping to catastrophic levels in the nineteenth
century, mainly as sugar cane plantations were estab-
lished widely on Mauritius. This development contin-
ued thereafter, leaving a confetti of fragments of native
habitat sprinkled mostly over the steeper slopes and
other areas least suitable for agriculture (Figures 6.1 ,
6.2 ). Many extant native species that survived this
environmental transformation, particularly plants,
remain threatened due to extinction debt ( Tilman et al .,
1994 ; Vellend et al ., 2006 ). The rarest species in the
world is from Mauritius: the palm Hyophorbe amaricau-
lis , down to a single individual. All propagation
attempts over at least 50 years have failed (e.g., Sarasan,
2010 ), making it a top contestant to become the symbol
of the living dead. Many other species, particularly
INTRODUCTION
Mauritius (1865 km 2 ) and Rodrigues (109 km
2 ), two
volcanic oceanic islands formed 8–10 million years ago
in the Mascarene Archipelago in the southwest Indian
Ocean, had one of the worst possible starts in relation
to biodiversity conservation. Within merely 370 or so
years of human presence, these formerly pristine
islands, teeming with endemic and often evolutionarily
remarkable species, were transformed into two of the
worst impacted places on earth ecologically ( Cheke and
Hume, 2008 ). Mauritius is most famous among con-
servation biologists for having provided the world with
the very symbol of human-induced species extinction,
the remarkable dodo ( Raphus cucullatus ) ( Turvey and
Cheke, 2008 ). Rodrigues had its own large fl ightless
bird, the solitaire ( Pezophaps solitaria ), which was also
quickly driven extinct by humans. But these two species
are only the tip of the iceberg of extinction on each
island. Parrots, owls, rails, giant tortoises and lizards,
fruit bats, snails, and many other animal and plant
species disappeared rapidly after humans fi rst set foot
on the islands (Table 6.1 ). The two islands are unusual
in that their original biota was relatively well known
from an early stage of human presence, owing to their
late discovery. Thus, helped by some relatively complete
fossil records (e.g., Rijsdijk et al ., 2009 ), Mauritius and
Rodrigues provide us with one of the best records of
what was initially present and what was lost, when,
Table 6.1 Native and endemic terrestrial species diversity in selected groups in Mauritius (Mau) and Rodrigues (Rod),
with respective total number of extinctions. Percentages are given in brackets
Total
Native Total Endemic Total Extinct Endemic Extinct
Mau Rod Mau Rod Mau Rod Mau Rod
Angiosperms
1
691 150 273 (39.5%) 47 (31.3%) 61 (8.8%) 17 (11.3%) 30 (11.0%) 10 (21.3%)
Mammals
2
521 * (20.0%) 0 2 (40.0%) 1 (50.0%) 0 0
Land birds
2,3
28 14 19 (67.9%) 13 (92.9%) 16 (57.1%) 11 (78.6%) 12 (63.2%) 11 (84.6%)
Reptiles
2
** 17 8 16 (94.1%) 8 (100.0%) 5 (29.4%) 8 (100.0%) 5 (31.3%) 8 (100.0%)
Butterfl ies
4
30 10 5 (16.7%) 0 4 (13.3%) 1 (10.0%) 1 (20.0%) 0
Snails
5
125 30 81 (64.8%) 16 (53.3%) 43 (34.4%) 7 (23.3%) 36 (44.4)% 5 (31.3%)
1 Baider et al . 2010 ;
2 Cheke and Hume 2008 ,
3 Hume 2011 ;
4 Williams 2007 ;
5 Griffi ths and Florens 2006 ;
* Goodman et al . 2008
** one species of gecko survives on Rodrigues but it was fi rst recorded after 1884 and is believed to be
cryptogenic
Figure 6.1 The percentage of native habitats (in black) remaining at different dates on Mauritius. Only remnants dominated
in their canopy by native species are shown. Those dominated in the canopy by invasive alien plants but with some native
relicts accounted for another 3.4% in 1997. The situation on Rodrigues is even worse.
Adapted from Vaughan and Wiehe ( 1937 ) and Page and D ’ Argent ( 1997 ).
Figure 6.2 Current habitat destruction on Mauritius. (a) The last remnant of mainland coastal native forest in the
Mascarenes being cleared at Roches Noires, Northeast Mauritius, for developing an “environmentally friendly” integrated
resort scheme, demonstrating major loopholes in the local environmental impact assessment process (May 2008). (b) Pile of
uprooted native and endemic plants on Ilot Gabriel Nature Reserve, North Mauritius shortly after the islet was leased to the
friend of a minister. Offi cially only dead wood was cleared (August 2008). (c) Illegal wetland back-fi lling in northern Mauritius
(March 2008). Most coastal wetlands in Mauritius now suffer from severe disturbances like fragmentation and fi lling
( Laurance et al., 2012 ) (d) One of the illegal clearings for deer hunting within the dense forest of the Nature Reserve of
Cabinet (note shooting platform indicated by the arrow). Those responsible were not fi ned, despite being identifi ed (August 2006).
Photos © F.B.V. Florens
(a)
(c) (d)
(b)
Africa: Conservation in Mauritius and Rodrigues 43
endemic to one or the other island are threatened
( Cheke and Hume, 2008 ).
CONSERVATION AND SUCCESSES
Such a grim situation laid a perfect stage for attracting
substantial conservation efforts, mainly from abroad
from institutions like the Peregrine Fund and the Jersey
Wildlife Preservation Trust ( Jones, 2008 ). These efforts
led to spectacular conservation successes starting in
the 1970s with the Mauritius Kestrel ( Falco punctatus ),
then known from only four individuals and more
recently boasting over 800 wild birds ( Jones, 2008 ).
Recoveries of the Pink Pigeon ( Columba mayeri ) and
Echo Parakeet ( Psittacula eques ) on Mauritius were
achieved through intensive management, including
captive breeding, and represent some of the other great
conservation achievements that followed in the 1980s
and 1990s ( Jones and Swinnerton, 1997 ; Swinnerton
et al ., 2004 ). In parallel with these species-centric
approaches, habitat restoration has been attempted,
mainly through the control of invasive alien species on
important offshore islets such as Round Island, which
holds the highest density of threatened vertebrate
species in the world, or Ile aux Aigrettes, home to the
last relicts of the coastal dry forests of the Mascarenes
( Parnell et al ., 1989 ).
Habitat restoration has also been undertaken on
Mauritius and Rodrigues mainland, where so-called
“conservation management areas” (CMAs) have been
set up and managed ( Cheke and Hume, 2008 ). CMAs
(totaling < 1% of remaining mainland native habitats)
are typically located within well-preserved remnants of
native vegetation. Ranging from 0.3–19.3 hectares in
size, CMAs are usually regularly cleared of invasive
introduced plants and are fenced against large alien
mammals like deer, feral pigs, and goats (Figures 6.3 a,
b). The successful eradication of alien species, includ-
ing rats, goats, and rabbits, from several islets, resulted
in dramatic recovery of the native vegetation and
fauna (e.g., North et al ., 1994 ). On the mainland, the
control of invasive alien plants like the strawberry
guava ( Psidium cattleianum ) in the CMAs on Mauritius
or the rose apple ( Syzygium jambos ) on Rodrigues had
marked benefi cial effects on both native plants ( Baider
and Florens, 2006, 2011 ; Monty, Florens and Baider,
2013 ) and animals ( Florens and Baider, 2007 ; Florens
et al ., 2010 ; Hugel, 2012a ). However, it has been
noted more recently that this restoration activity is
plants, have each shrunk down to a continuously
decreasing handful of individuals. For example, the
Mauritian endemic Badula ovalifolia , an understory tree
discovered in 1821, is today known from only three
adults and one sapling with nearly half of its adult
population lost since 1997 ( Florens, Baider and Bosser,
2008 ). But apart from the extremely small and frag-
mented populations left over from habitat destruction,
the native biota also faces growing pressures from
many invasive alien animals (particularly predators),
and plant species that often reach extreme densities in
even the best preserved habitat remnants ( Strahm,
1993 ; Florens, 2008 ).
Overexploitation has also contributed to the overall
decay of biodiversity on both islands. Easily hunted
animals like the four species of giant tortoises (two on
each island) were swiftly driven extinct ( Cheke, 1987 ).
Populations of economically useful plants were also
decimated. The best examples are some palm species
with edible hearts, which went from being extremely
abundant ( Bernardin de Saint Pierre, 1773 ) to the
brink of extinction within two centuries ( Maunder
et al ., 2002 ). In addition to all these major classic
threats, there is a suite of other biological problems
such as agricultural insect pest introduction ( Kaiser,
Hansen and Müller, 2008 ), lost interactions like seed
dispersal by now extinct fauna ( Hansen, 2010 ), and
the hampering of pollination or seed dispersal by alien
species ( Hansen, Olesen and Jones, 2002 ; Hansen and
Müller, 2009 ), all of these piling up pressure against
the survival of native species of the two islands.
Climate change may also worsen matters, although
evidence so far suggests that the pre-human coloniza-
tion biota of Mauritius has been rather resilient to past
climatic stress ( Rijsdijk et al ., 2009, 2011 ; van der Plas
et al ., 2012 ). Climate change over the last 38,000 years
seems to have triggered transitions between vegetation
communities that mainly involved species reassort-
ments or changes in vegetation distribution, with little
evidence for plant species having gone extinct ( de Boer
et al. , 2013a, b ). At any rate, a large portion of the
surviving native species is nowadays under threat of
extinction according to the IUCN Red List criteria.
Among angiosperms, 81.7% and 77.8% of species
should classify as currently threatened in Mauritius
and Rodrigues, respectively ( Baider et al ., 2010 ). The
corresponding fi gures for land mollusks, an often-used
indicator group, stand at 80% and 60% for Mauritius
and Rodrigues, respectively ( Griffi ths and Florens,
2006 ). In addition, all nine extant land bird species
44 Conservation Biology
More recently, a number of translocations of threat-
ened species to safer havens have been successful. For
example, individuals of the Mauritius Fody ( Foudia
rubra ), a species declining in the face of alien predation
and habitat degradation in its last strongholds in the
Mauritian uplands ( Nichols, Woolaver and Jones,
2004 ), were translocated to the lagoon islet of Ile aux
Aigrettes ( Cristinacce et al ., 2008 ), where alien preda-
tors are absent. Other highly restricted vertebrates that
have survived on a single offshore islet have been
reintroduced onto other islets following the eradication
of their alien predators there. For example, individuals
unnecessarily being made both more expensive and
damaging to native biodiversity merely due to a lack of
basic evidence-informed decision ( Florens and Baider,
2013 ). Furthermore, expensive attempts to exclude
large hoofed mammals from the CMAs have generally
been ineffective ( Florens, 2008 ; Baider and Florens,
2011 ) and their presence and impact did not prevent a
strong recovery of the forest community in the CMAs,
particularly on Mauritius, indicating that attempts to
exclude large mammals might not be as important as
is generally assumed compared with alien plant control,
at least locally.
Figure 6.3 Some conservation activities on Mauritius and Rodrigues. (a) Fencing forest remnants to try to exclude large
alien mammals. This measure generally provides weak benefi ts relative to its cost, particularly on Mauritius, but continues to
be implemented. (b) Weeding of invasive alien plants from native forests. This represents by far the most judicious use of the
conservation dollar, but has a low popularity relative to more “exciting” species-centric projects. (c) Supplementary feeding of
pink pigeon on Mauritius. This conservation action has proven invaluable in saving the species when it was on the brink of
extinction, but now helps maintain the species dependence on intensive management of questionable sustainability. (d)
Innovative use of Aldabra tortoises within a valley undergoing reforestation with native species at the Francois Leguat Tortoise
Park, Rodrigues. The animals are used as analogues to replace extinct endemic species and their lost ecological functions.
Photos © (a), (c) F.B.V. Florens; (b) Courtesy of D. Florens; (d) Photo courtesy of François Leguat Reserve
(a)
(c)
(b)
(d)
Africa: Conservation in Mauritius and Rodrigues 45
surprisingly large proportion of native species, particu-
larly of plants, that persist ( Baider et al ., 2010 ; Florens
et al ., 2012 ). Furthermore, new native or endemic
plant species still continue to be discovered despite the
fact that only tiny habitat remnants survive ( Le Péchon
et al ., 2011 ; Baider et al ., 2012 ; Baider and Florens,
2013 ). Even in a few cases where populations have
been extirpated from one or the other island, reintro-
duction might still be possible. Some plants extinct on
Rodrigues can be reintroduced from Mauritius. Neigh-
boring Réunion Island might also supply Mauritius
with some species for eventual reintroduction, includ-
ing plants such as Hernandia mascarenensis ( Bosser et
al ., 1976 onwards), the butterfl ies Antanartia borbonica
and Salamis augustina ( Williams, 2007 ; Martiré and
Rochat, 2008 ), the snail Erepta setiliris ( Griffi ths and
Florens, 2006 ), and the bird Circus maillardi ( Jones,
2008 ). As in the case of the introduced tortoises, close
relatives of other extinct endemic species could be con-
sidered as introduction candidates to serve as ana-
logues in natural communities. However, stemming
further losses and extinctions is a much higher
priority.
REMAINING CHALLENGES
The conservation successes outlined here are hearten-
ing, particularly the recoveries of some charismatic
vertebrates, but the disturbing fact remains that, over
the course of some four decades of sustained and often
intense and costly conservation efforts, only a handful
of species seem to have been saved from virtually
certain extinction. Most of these have been vertebrates
( Jones, 2008 ), although a few plant species have also
recovered much, including Ramosmania heterophylla
(Rubiaceae), a Rodrigues endemic ( Strahm, 1989 ). In
contrast, the vast majority of native species, particu-
larly the less charismatic ones such as at least 750
endemic insect species (e.g., Motala et al ., 2007 ; Hugel,
2009, 2010, 2012b ), continue to decline, as the over-
whelming majority (99%) of native habitats on which
most depend continues to decay into impoverished eco-
systems dominated by alien invasive plants. The
number of species that have been saved for the medium
to long run thus represent a mere drop in the ocean of
endemic and threatened species, a situation that calls
for more decisive and meaningful conservation action.
It is true that several species once thought to be extinct,
having escaped all surveys for sometimes one or even
of the endemic skink Leiolopisma telfairii have been
moved from their last refuge on Round Island to Ile aux
Aigrettes, thus establishing a second population that
will help reduce the risk of extinction ( Thébaud et al .,
2009 ). In other cases, the entire species has gone
extinct, and further action is obviously impossible. This
has been the case with the four giant tortoise species,
which formerly played important ecological functions
as herbivores and seed disseminators ( Hansen, Kaiser
and Müller, 2008 ). In some cases, alien analogues have
been introduced to try to restore the former ecological
interactions. Thus, Aldabra tortoises ( Aldabrachelys
gigantea ) have been introduced to Ile aux Aigrettes
where they now disseminate seeds of endemic ebony
( Griffi ths et al ., 2011 ). This tortoise, along with a
smaller species ( Astrochelys radiata ), have been intro-
duced to Rodrigues to restore ecological function in the
François Leguat Giant Tortoise Reserve, where they
successfully disseminate seeds of native plants and
control invasive alien weeds ( Burney, 2011 ; Figure
6.3 d). However, A. gigantea has more recently also been
shown to enhance the germination of some invasive
alien weeds ( Waibel et al. , 2013 ). Another limitation
with their use as analogue species is that they may not
be able to breed in some sites where they have been
introduced ( Griffi ths et al. , 2012 ).
Mauritius and Rodrigues can thus boast a number
of conservation achievements and continue to play an
important role as a laboratory where new conservation
approaches and techniques are being innovated, tested,
and developed. The outcomes are useful not only locally
but as examples elsewhere, since many places in the
world are or will soon be facing similar problems,
including habitat destruction, overexploitation, dis-
rupted mutualisms, and species invasion. Indeed, to a
substantial extent, Mauritius and Rodrigues already
represent situations that await much of the tropical
world based on current worldwide trends in human
overpopulation (densities of 668 people in Mauritius
and 364 in Rodrigues per km
2 [ CSO, 2010 ]), habitat
destruction and fragmentation, extinction, and inva-
sion by alien species. These multiple threats combine to
produce acute conservation problems but have one
advantage: they incite urgent and concrete conserva-
tion interventions. By attracting such attention, Mau-
ritius and Rodrigues have played useful roles as
conservation laboratories for the world beyond, and so
far many such experiments are working effectively.
Despite the massive habitat loss and other threats,
there is some cause for measured optimism given the
46 Conservation Biology
“conservation successes” over the long run. It is also
true, however, that a conservation NGO, like the one
currently spearheading the conservation of these
species, can itself derive substantial benefi ts with con-
tinued intensive species-centered management; such
activities make the NGO effectively indispensable and
at the same time help guarantee an infl ux of funds
through management fees, which generally increase
with project cost. Incentives to favor species-centered
conservation management, which is the most expen-
sive approach but also the one that builds the greatest
dependence on continued management for the longest
time, can thus be very strong. The virtual monopoly of
non-governmental conservation action, which this
NGO holds on the two islands, exacerbates this problem.
Such a situation can constitute a brake to the promo-
tion of the much more desirable approach of address-
ing conservation from an ecosystem point of view – for
example, by restoring whole habitats as through the
control of invasive alien species. While the need for
such large-scale restoration has recently been recog-
nized for Mauritius and Rodrigues ( NBSAP, 2006 ), it is
still proving diffi cult to implement with less than 10%
of the objective attained at midterm of the National
Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), much
of which is concentrated on islets of importance mainly
for a few vertebrate species but which overall comprise
a tiny fraction of the total native or threatened
biodiversity.
This situation prevails despite an ongoing Protected
Area Network (PAN) project funded at US$16 million,
mainly by the UNDP. A small fraction of that amount
would suffi ce to exceed the NBSAP ( 2006 ) target of
larger scale habitat restoration at current proven costs
of initial invasive alien plant control ( < US$2,000 per
ha) ( Florens and Baider, 2013 ). Unfortunately, from
the project document ( UNDP-GEF 2009 ), it appears
that much of this record funding for the country,
entrusted mainly to the same NGO and the National
Parks and Conservation Services, is earmarked for con-
sultancies and other activities that might often dupli-
cate existing knowledge, in particular that concerning
weed control costs and effi cacy, leaving relatively little
for on the ground conservation work. On a positive
note, Mauritius has set up a Conservation Fund, and
some progress has been made in restoring wider habitat
areas. However, disproportionally more effort still goes
to expensive and relatively low-impact projects. A
recent example is the translocation attempt made on
one of the populations of an endemic species of reptile
two centuries, have been relocated in the reduced
patches of remaining habitat ( Florens, Florens and
Sevathian, 2001 ; Florens and Baider, 2007 ; Baider and
Florens, 2011 ). But given the evident extinction debt
and the degree to which the two islands natural habi-
tats have been and continue to be impacted (e.g., Figure
6.2 ), it would be naïve to conclude that enough is being
done to stem further extinctions.
A major weakness in the current regional conserva-
tion approach, particularly in Mauritius, where the
bulk of the two islands biodiversity survives, is the
disproportionate importance being given to a case-by-
case species-level approach to conservation, especially
for birds and more recently for reptiles. This species-
specifi c approach often takes away efforts and funds
from a more comprehensive ecosystem approach that
would benefi t many more species simultaneously,
including the very birds and reptiles of central atten-
tion as the habitat as a whole became more functional.
Thus, a close examination at some of the hailed con-
servation successes, such as that of the pink pigeon on
Mauritius, reveals that the continued maintenance of
the birds depends heavily on the ongoing intensive
management of the habitat as a whole, including the
provision of supplementary food, the control of alien
predators, and the management of disease, which is
rife in the “wild” subpopulations ( Bunbury et al .,
2008 ). The use of feeding hoppers, made necessary
because there is still too little restored native forest to
support the recovering bird population – less than 1%
of the native vegetation currently left – has been
observed to facilitate predation on the birds by alien
vertebrates, presumably feral cats (personal observa-
tion, 1996). It is also plausible that the feeding hoppers
may increase risks of transmission of water-borne dis-
eases, despite the fact that only dry grains are dispensed
in the hoppers ( Namah, 2010 ) and that the bird-
concentrating effect that feeding hoppers have is likely
to favor disease transmission as in the recent outbreak
of beak and feather disease among Echo Parakeets
( Kundu et al. , 2012 ). If conservation is “The imple-
mentation of policies/programs for the long-term
retention of natural communities/species under condi-
tions which provide for continuing evolution” ( Primack,
1998 ), then we have not yet succeeded with the pink
pigeon but instead have saved it from extinction only to
succeed in maintaining it as it were “under drip in an
intensive care unit.” The heavy dependence of this and
other species such as the Echo Parakeet on intensive
management seriously questions the viability of these
Africa: Conservation in Mauritius and Rodrigues 47
protect biodiversity on Mauritius and Rodrigues are
fairly robust, their implementation often remains a
remote dream. For example, the endemic Pteropus
niger , the only of three original species of frugivorous
bats that has escaped extinction on Mauritius, has been
legally protected since 1993. After some 20 years, no
nes have been levied, despite the fact that many
animals are illegally killed every year by fruit growers
( Anonymous, 2010 ) and sometimes for sport. The gov-
ernment is even considering relaxing the protection
law ( Anonymous, 2010 ) and adopting a culling
program for this endangered bat species under pressure
from fruit growers ( Florens, 2012a )! A discouraging
sign of the times is that even refraining from culling
populations of this endangered species would start to
be regarded as a conservation victory. Another similar
example of status-quo “conservation victory” concerns
one of the last areas of native forest in southwest Mau-
ritius (at Ferney), which was scheduled to be sliced in
half by a new highway but which in the end was not
( Cheke and Hume, 2008 ). As part of the solution, it
appears imperative that the discretionary powers that
ministers have in law be reduced; there are clearly too
many examples of undue pressure placed on offi cers
and bodies to take actions that are often in confl ict with
the country ’ s offi cial strategies and the international
conventions that it has have adopted. A bill has been
drafted by an international team of legal experts that
should, if enacted, help fi ll this and other gaps. But the
civil society should also take up a more vigorous role in
taking authorities to task on the numerous violations
that are continuing to erode what is left of the unique
biodiversity of the two islands.
CONCLUSION
Mauritius and Rodrigues islands still hold exceptional
biodiversity of global signifi cance despite massive
habitat destruction, invasion by alien species, and
other threats that have led to many extinctions and to
a biota that is today among the most threatened in the
world. Decisive conservation actions have saved some
species from virtually certain extinction and a suite of
conservation and restoration management actions
continue to be innovated, tested, or improved, often
with encouraging results. However, apart from the
classic threats of habitat destruction and fragmenta-
tion, invasive species and diseases, extinction debt, or
broken down mutualisms that are besetting the islands
( Gongylomorphus fontenayi ) that was under threat on
Flat Island, a nature reserve north of Mauritius that is
highly subject to pressure by the human population.
An exaggeration of the taxonomic status of the reptile
(from population to full endemic species contra pub-
lished works [ Austin, Arnold and Jones, 2009 ]) seems
to have triggered the authorities to contribute substan-
tial funding there while neglecting other much higher
impact conservation work elsewhere, like larger scale
habitat restoration. In light of such situations, it
appears vital to strengthen the capacity of the govern-
mental authorities like the National Parks and Conser-
vation Services, most of whose staff is trained not in
ecology or conservation but in agriculture, to take
more effective and practical conservation decisions.
Breaking the monopoly of the NGO seems vital too.
One other major conservation problem is the weak
and declining commitment of government to conser-
vation of biodiversity (e.g., Figure 6.2 , Caujapé-Castells
et al ., 2010 ; Florens 2012a , b; Florens, 2013 ), which
itself appears to largely refl ect the lack of importance
that ordinary Mauritians attach to conservation, gen-
erally perceived as a luxury. This problem of perception
is more acute on the more urbanized Mauritius than it
is on Rodrigues. Despite the commitment of many gov-
ernment offi cers and bodies to addressing conservation
challenges, their efforts are often curtailed by interfer-
ence intense enough to make the offi cers yield to the
whims of politicians and end up backing decisions that
are detrimental to conservation. One example is the
recent lease of the Ilot Gabriel Nature Reserve to a min-
ister s friend for touristic exploitation, where the pro-
moter not only violated clauses of the lease with
impunity, but benefi ted by a cover-up of the wrongdo-
ings (Figure 6.3 b). A similar situation happened on
another nature reserve (Flat Island). Currently, the gov-
ernment is taking a disturbingly long time to approve
the management plan for the National Park of Islets, a
situation that incidentally favors plans to develop
hotels on biologically important islets. The declining
commitment of the government to conservation is also
apparent in the management of the Conservation
Fund, which is meant to fi nance conservation projects
but which is instead being used largely for the day-to-
day running of the National Parks and Conservation
Service, or even to fi nance litter-picking campaigns
and other expenses only remotely related to conserva-
tion. This misallocation of funds continues to deprive
the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan of
funding. Furthermore, while laws and regulations to
48 Conservation Biology
for Mauritius (Mascarene Islands) and their conservation
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Vélez , M. I. , Prins , M. , Baider , C. and Florens , F. B. V. (2013a)
Multi-proxy reconstruction of environmental dynamics and
colonization impacts in the Mauritian uplands . Palaeogeog-
raphy, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology .
de Boer , E. J. , Hooghiemstra , H. , Florens , F. B. V. , Baider , C. ,
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biodiversity, certain generally little-mentioned threats
appear poised to worsen the situation or at least hinder
progress. The low and declining commitment of gov-
ernment to biodiversity conservation needs to be
addressed and remedied. The country should seek to
implement its laws to protect biodiversity rather than
seeking to relax or ignore them. There is also much
room for improvement in the capacity of practitioners
to adopt a more robust, evidence-based approach to
conservation and restoration action as well as in priori-
tization of tasks, particularly concerning restoration of
habitats. Finally, it appears essential to encourage
NGOs action to move towards more all-encompassing
and sustainable efforts like embracing an ecosystem
approach and community involvement in conservation
in a more meaningful manner, keeping species-centered
action only when it is absolutely necessary.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The National Parks and Conservation Service for pro-
viding permission to carry out research within the
National Parks. Cláudia Baider and Anthony S. Cheke
for their very constructive comments on earlier ver-
sions of the manuscript.
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... First settled in 1638, Mauritius was the earliest of the Mascarene islands to experience permanent habitation. It is a portent for other oceanic islands, epitomizing extreme and rapid anthropogenic landscape transformation wrought in less than four centuries (Florens, 2013). Why the island was not colonized earlier remains unknown. ...
... However, as vast tracks of land are owned by French-descent Mauritians, who constitute just two percent of the overall population, there exists an opportunity to galvanize a relatively small proportion of the populace-but one with political influence as well as land ownership-into action. Moreover, this specific well-educated and globally connected group has often been vocal about the need for ecological sustainability (Le Breton, in press) and has been at the forefront of highlighting the need for better conservation strategies (Florens, 2013). Strides to evaluate and manage local flora and fauna, for example, through the establishment of the NGO the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, have led to world-acclaimed successes with conservation of the Mauritian Kestrel and Pink Pigeon (Sodhi et al., 2011). ...
... Strides to evaluate and manage local flora and fauna, for example, through the establishment of the NGO the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, have led to world-acclaimed successes with conservation of the Mauritian Kestrel and Pink Pigeon (Sodhi et al., 2011). However, despite these accomplishments, with the highest population density in Africa (Statista, 2020), the island's ecology will continue to degrade through human activity, and relative inactivity on the part of conservation (Florens, 2013;Sachs et al., 2021). ...
Article
Full-text available
The colonization of Mauritius exemplifies the role played by humans in altering the ecosystems of remote oceanic islands. This paper focuses on how we study those islands first colonized under the global mantle of colonialism. Here we aim to provide a theoretical framework for historical ecological investigations to disentangle the processes, impacts, and outcomes of colonization during colonialism, considering local, regional, and global drivers. The paper provides a review of existing literature, outlines a proposed research program encompassing paleoecology, paleoclimatology, archeology, and history, and offers details of potential research sites. We present “historical ecology” as a framework to aid future work, and argue that a refined understanding of the impact of human colonization can help create a nuanced chronology of environmental degradation that typifies Mauritius. Such detailed assessment is necessary to inform contemporary ecological conservation efforts. Finally, we argue that narratives of changing ecosystems and practice can help construct “usable pasts,” often missing from historical records, for the multicultural populace of the island.
... Some types of habitat, like the palm-rich drier forests, have been completely destroyed from the mainland and only survive as highly degraded small patches on tiny offshore islets [37] which are fortunately undergoing ecological restoration. The remaining habitats on Mauritius are also highly fragmented [40], and despite their small extent, habitat destruction continues and has been recorded even within Nature Reserves protected by law [41]. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of the 80 or so km 2 of native habitats that have so far escaped deforestation are currently highly invaded by encroaching alien plants [42]. ...
... Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of the 80 or so km 2 of native habitats that have so far escaped deforestation are currently highly invaded by encroaching alien plants [42]. In effect, Mauritius may arguably be regarded as representing a "window" into the future of many other tropical places as the latter catch up, in line with current trends, with the already advanced levels of habitat destruction and fragmentation, alien species invasion, native species extinction and endangerment rates, human overpopulation, and urban sprawl, among others [39,41]. Mauritius, therefore, approximates what other places are increasingly approaching and can thus serve as an informative laboratory for them of how biodiversity will be lost, but also of possible solutions to stem this biodiversity loss. ...
... Additions to the native flora of Mauritius orchids continue to be made despite the very limited extent of native habitats that survive the rapid deforestation experienced [41]. Thus, during the last 16 years alone (which represents 7% of the total period of orchid study on the island), seven species have been added, representing about 8% of the total known Mauritian native orchid flora. ...
Chapter
Mauritius was one of the last places on Earth to be colonized by humans offering one of the most complete history of what native species occurred originally and what was lost, when, and why. This situation can therefore serve as a laboratory to study human impacts in the current age of human-driven species extinction. Mauritius is also one of the most human-impacted places, thereby reflecting what awaits much of the tropics as human impacts intensify. We used available literature, herbarium samples, and personal observations and studies on the Orchidaceae to characterize its diversity, distribution and ecology, and the human-induced threats they face, to better inform their conservation in Mauritius. There are 91 native orchid species from 30 genera recorded on the island. Twenty species (22%) appear extinct, although some may survive undetected. New species and records continue to be added. Only 10% of the species are endemic to Mauritius, and 80% are unique to the south-west Indian Ocean islands. Most species are epiphytic, and the highest diversity occurs in native forests of the wet uplands. Mauritian orchids, particularly the larger ones, face many threats, some inexorably worsening. There exists much room to improve knowledge about Mauritian orchids that would better inform their conservation which is today still very neglected. This includes taxonomic research, detection of ecological patterns and trends, ecology of the species, as well as quantification and hierarchization of threats to prioritize conservation management. Studying Mauritius native orchids helps understand how devastating, sustained, and accelerating the many threats that human activities pose to orchid biodiversity can be and which await other countries currently less human-impacted than Mauritius.
... Some types of habitat, like the palm-rich drier forests, have been completely destroyed from the mainland and only survive as highly degraded small patches on tiny offshore islets [37] which are fortunately undergoing ecological restoration. The remaining habitats on Mauritius are also highly fragmented [40], and despite their small extent, habitat destruction continues and has been recorded even within Nature Reserves protected by law [41]. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of the 80 or so km 2 of native habitats that have so far escaped deforestation are currently highly invaded by encroaching alien plants [42]. ...
... Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of the 80 or so km 2 of native habitats that have so far escaped deforestation are currently highly invaded by encroaching alien plants [42]. In effect, Mauritius may arguably be regarded as representing a "window" into the future of many other tropical places as the latter catch up, in line with current trends, with the already advanced levels of habitat destruction and fragmentation, alien species invasion, native species extinction and endangerment rates, human overpopulation, and urban sprawl, among others [39,41]. Mauritius, therefore, approximates what other places are increasingly approaching and can thus serve as an informative laboratory for them of how biodiversity will be lost, but also of possible solutions to stem this biodiversity loss. ...
... Additions to the native flora of Mauritius orchids continue to be made despite the very limited extent of native habitats that survive the rapid deforestation experienced [41]. Thus, during the last 16 years alone (which represents 7% of the total period of orchid study on the island), seven species have been added, representing about 8% of the total known Mauritian native orchid flora. ...
Chapter
Mauritius was one of the last places on Earth to be colonized by humans offering one of the most complete history of what native species occurred originally and what was lost, when, and why. This situation can therefore serve as a laboratory to study human impacts in the current age of human driven species extinction. Mauritius is also one of the most human-impacted places, thereby reflecting what awaits much of the tropics as human impacts intensify. We used available literature, herbarium samples, and personal observations and studies on the Orchidaceae to characterize its diversity, distribution and ecology, and the human-induced threats they face, to better inform their conservation in Mauritius. There are 91 native orchid species from 30 genera recorded on the island. Twenty species (22%) appear extinct, although some may survive undetected. New species and records continue to be added. Only 10% of the species are endemic to Mauritius, and 80% are unique to the south-west Indian Ocean islands. Most species are epiphytic, and the highest diversity occurs in native forests of the wet uplands. Mauritian orchids, particularly the larger ones, face many threats, some inexorably worsening. There exists much room to improve knowledge about Mauritian orchids that would better inform their conservation which is today still very neglected. This includes taxonomic research, detection of ecological patterns and trends, ecology of the species, as well as quantification and hierarchization of threats to prioritize conservation management. Studying Mauritius native orchids helps understand how devastating, sustained, and accelerating the many threats that human activities pose to orchid biodiversity can be and which await other countries currently less human-impacted than Mauritius.
... Mauritius was colonized in 1598 and since then 98% of its primary forests and about 40% of native endemic terrestrial fauna disappeared (Florens 2013). Likewise, since the arrival of Europeans in 1665, about 70% of native terrestrial vertebrate fauna of Réunion went extinct, and its flora is nowadays dominated by an extremely high number of invasive plants (Lagabrielle et al. 2011). ...
... Emblematic examples of lost vertebrate in the Mascarene islands are the dodo (Rhaphus cucullatus (Linnaeus, 1758)), the Rodrigues solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria (Gmelin, 1789)), day-geckos (genus Phelsuma Gray, 1828), giant tortoises (genus Cylindraspis Fitzinger, 1835) and fruit bats (genus Pteropus Brisson, 1762) (see Griffiths and Florens 2006;Cheke and Hume 2008;Florens 2013). However, very little is known about the invertebrate fauna, and especially insects. ...
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We describe a new species of dung beetle, Epactoides giganteus sp. nov. , from a single female specimen allegedly collected in the 19 th century on Réunion island and recently found at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris. This species differs from other species of Epactoides by larger size and a set of other distinctive morphological characters. Epactoides giganteus sp. nov. is the first native dung beetle (Scarabaeinae) of Réunion, and its discovery expands the known area of distribution of the genus Epactoides , which was hitherto believed to be endemic to Madagascar. Like other taxa from Madagascar and peripheral islands (e.g., Comoro, Seychelles, Mascarenes), E. giganteus sp. nov. may have reached Réunion by over-water dispersal. Given the rapid loss of biodiversity on Réunion island and the fact that no additional specimens were re-collected over the last two centuries, it is very likely that E. giganteus sp. nov. has gone extinct. However, we have unconfirmed evidence that the holotype of E. giganteus sp. nov. might be a mislabeled specimen from Madagascar, which would refute the presence of native dung beetles on Réunion. We discuss both hypotheses about the specimen origin and assess the systematic position of E. giganteus sp. nov. by examining most of the described species of Madagascan Epactoides . Additionally, we provide a brief overview of the dung beetle fauna of Mascarene Archipelago.
... Being completely deserted since the 1930s, nature claimed the island back. Overgrown with endemic and imported vegetation [38], only the lighthouse at the southwestern corner has remained easily recognizable as a historic building. Combining various elements from incomplete, fragmented, and low-information cartography with the contour lines on the fundamental 1978 map for all of Mauritius (Flat Island is included in Northern Islands, Sheet 14), we were able to create a DEM of the island with 1 m or 2 m accuracy ( Figure 5). ...
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This article presents an integrated approach used in archaeology and heritage studies to examine health and disease management during the colonial period in the Indian Ocean. Long-distance labor migrations had dire health consequences to both immigrants and host populations. Focusing on the quarantine station on Flat Island, Mauritius, this study analyzes a historical social setting and natural environment that were radically altered due to the implementation of health management. Using aerial and satellite imagery, digital elevation models, RTK and total station raw data, 3D modeling, and GIS mapping, we reconstructed the spatial organization and the built landscape of this institution to assess the gap between the benefits claimed by European colonizers and the actual effects on immigrant health conditions through the promotion of public health practices.
... On Grande Comore, the most invaded habitats were disturbed forests, especially by small-scale cropping (Figure 3. As in Hawaii (Smith 1985) and the Mascarene islands (Baret et al. 2006 ;Florens 2013 ;Hammond et al. 2015 ;Norder et al 2017 ;Strasberg et al. 2005), the lowland forests on Grande Comore contain numerous alien species which have escaped from agriculture and urbanisation. The same trend has been observed on Mayotte (Pascal 1977). ...
Thesis
En raison de la destruction des reliques de forêt tropicale indigène aux Comores, il est très urgent de définir les priorités de conservation en particulier à La Grande Comore qui porte encore des larges zones de forêt tropicale en moyenne altitude. Comme dans la majorité des îles volcaniques, les forêts de l’archipel des Comores sont aussi exposées aux effets de changement globaux, en particulier les invasions biologiques. Or les données de base sur les espèces exotiques envahissantes et les niveaux d’invasion dans les différents habitats dans cet archipel sont très disparates. Dans cette étude, à l’échelle l’île de La Grande Comore nous proposons de répondre aux questions suivantes : (i) quelles sont les plantes les plus invasives en terme de recouvrement et de fréquence ? (ii) quel est le niveau d’invasion mesuré en terme de recouvrement par les espèces exotiques à l’échelle habitat et comment varie-t-il au sein des types d’habitats ? Les effets du gradient d’altitude et de l’occupation du sol à l’échelle transect et section influencent-ils le niveau d’invasion au sein des habitats ? Cette étude a été réalisée sur les plantes ligneuses exotiques. Les inventaires ont été conduits dans les forêts de basse et de moyenne altitude (entre 24 et 1100 m d’altitude), dans 44 transects de 150 - 300 m de longueur et de 8 - 10 m de largeur, dans lesquels tous les individus supérieurs à 1 m de hauteur ont été répertoriés. Les plantes exotiques dominantes au sein des forêts natives et perturbées sont Psidium cattleyanum, Clidemia hirta et Rubus rosifolius. La forêt de basse altitude (100 - 700 m) est quasiment remplacée par des peuplements d’espèces exotiques d’intérêt agronomique (Cocos nucifera, Mangifera indica, Syzygium aromaticum, etc). Les forêts de moyenne altitude (700 - 1100 m) à dominance des genres Nuxia, Ocotea, Tambourissa et Weinmannia sont généralement non envahies au sein de leurs canopées et très peu envahies en sous-bois. Ces résultats constituent un premier cas d’évaluation du degrés d’invasion des habitats à l’échelle de l’île. En améliorant les connaissances sur les menaces liées aux invasions par les plantes dans la région, ce travail apporte une contribution à l’amélioration des connaissances pour la gestion et la conservation des écosystèmes indigènes de l’archipel des Comores.
... Discourses can be perceived as sets of coherently organised linguistic material that enable people to socially construct meaning (Coyle, 1995, cited in Cohen et al., 2011, and for the purpose of this paper, is understood as "standardised ways that particular groups in society use language, images and other forms of representation" (Stibbe, 2015, p. 22). Discourses have a direct impact on how learners construct their representations of the world, and this is even more relevant in the context of Mauritius, which has experienced severe ecological degradation (Florens, 2013). For this present paper, text is considered to be specific books, films, websites or other artefacts which use language or other modes such as images and music. ...
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As an expanding area of study, ecolinguistics examines language not only as part of society, but also as part of the wider ecological systems that societies are embedded in. The ecolinguistic paradigm is relevant to the Mauritian educational context because how we speak about the world can encourage people to behave in ways which either harm or protect the natural world. Discourses, taken as standardised ways that language, images and other forms of representation are used by people in different groups (Stibbe, 2015), have a direct impact on how learners construct their representations of the world. This is particularly relevant in the context of Mauritius, which has experienced severe ecological degradation (Florens, 2013). Research in the local context, focused on analysis of textbooks prior to the educational reform of 2014, demonstrated a high level of ideologically laden statements about non-human animals and the environment; this ranged from anthropocentrism and speciesism to exclusively functional definitions of ecologically-meaningful organisms (Oozeerally & Hookoomsing, 2017). This paper analyses ecological discourse in two Grade 3 literacy stories written by the lead author, Helina Hookoomsing that formed part of curriculum materials complementing the Grade 3 English textbooks. The aim is to provide a reflection on the significance of ecolinguistics in the Mauritian educational context. Through eco-critical discourse analysis of the two texts, using Stibbe’s (2015) ecolinguistics framework, this paper discusses how the relationships between humans and the ecosystem are represented via language and educational discourse.
... With the exception of the northern islets where squamates avoided extinction thanks to low densities of introduced predators (Cheke and Hume, 2008;Cole, 2012), this paradox cannot be explained by differential pressures of mammal introduction and overhunting. On the contrary, Mauritius experienced a greater number of introductions of predators known for their negative impact on native vertebrates (Florens, 2013;Reinegger et al., 2021). Meanwhile, although overhunting likely impacted more Réunion during early human colonization, it has not spared Mauritius, where the number of inhabitants has been higher than on Réunion since the late 18th century. ...
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The Mascarenes are sadly famous worldwide for the massive extinction of their native vertebrates since recent human colonization. However, extinction patterns show astonishing disparities between the two main islands and between lineages of forest vertebrates. On Réunion (2,512 km², 3,070 m) where about a third of native habitats remains, most large-bodied vertebrates, especially frugivores, collapsed by the first half of the 18th century, while several have survived longer and some still exist on Mauritius (1,865 km², 828 m) where more than 95% of native habitats have been transformed. Considering lineages of forest vertebrates shared by both islands (23 genera, 53 species), we test the hypothesis that differing patterns of lowland suitable habitat destruction is the main cause behind this paradox. Before that, we assess the potential impact of other major drivers of extinctions since first contact with humans. Firstly, Mauritius shows earlier and more numerous introductions of mammal predators known for their devastating impact (except northern islets which have thus become important sanctuaries for several squamates). Secondly, settlers were inveterate hunters on both islands, but while Réunion was overhunted before Mauritius, the burst of human population in the latter in late 18th century has not led to the rapid extinction of all large native vertebrates. These two factors alone therefore cannot explain the observed paradox. Rather, the early destruction of lowland habitats (<400 m) on Réunion is concomitant with most extinctions of forest vertebrate, notably frugivores that rapidly lost most lowland habitats dominated by large fleshy-fruited plants. Moreover, landform-induced fragmentation has likely decreased the ability of adjacent habitats to act as effective refuges. Conversely, Mauritius retained suitable low-fragmented habitats until the late 19th which probably allowed, at least for a time, several native vertebrates to escape from multiple human-induced disturbances. Despite the almost total destruction of native habitats since then on Mauritius, conservation actions have saved several threatened vertebrate species that play a fundamental role in the functioning of native ecosystems. The fact that there are now more favorable habitats on Réunion than on Mauritius argues for the rewilding of Réunion with these extant large vertebrates.
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Research on crop systems and biodiversity conservation in the tropics has mainly been concerned with how low to mid intensity agricultural systems can benefit from adjacent natural habitats by receiving ecosystem services from natural biodiversity. One intensively studied crop in this framework is coffee. Positive effects are relatively easy to quantify by comparing coffee yield and by recording native species diversity. However, a largely overlooked issue is how agricultural areas affect native organisms in adjacent natural habitats, for example through movement of pest species that could impose a risk of degrading these habitats. We give an example from Mauritius, where an introduced coffee pest severely reduces the reproductive success of a threatened endemic plant species. We argue that such effects may be more common than suggested by the literature, especially when crop and native plants are congeneric. In the long term, such negative effects may degrade natural habitats, thereby causing ecosystem services derived from these habitats to decline.
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From this hilltop porch at sunrise, above the limestone landscape of Plaine Corail on the southwestern corner of Rodrigues Island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, I am looking out over a patchwork of small subsistence farms, awakening livestock, a sleepy airport, and a vast reef-bounded lagoon, bigger than the island itself – and something else. Something that warms the cockles of my heart. Something I have been writing and dreaming about for decades, a kind of project that gives me hope for conservation in an otherwise dark hour. Nestled in the midst of all these human landscapes is a truly prehistoric scene, the Francois Leguat Giant Tortoise and Cave Reserve. On this remarkable 19 hectares, Reserve Manager Aurele Anquetil André and his dedicated staff of young Rodriguans have planted over 130,000 native trees and shrubs, some virtually extinct in the wild and many quite rare otherwise, in just five years. Nearly all have survived, and with only limited maintenance despite the huge challenges posed by invasive weeds on all remote Indo - Pacific islands. Giant tortoises, over 1,000 of them, lumber about doing the work. Fenced in and well - fed on the invasive plants that compete with the natives, introduced Aldabra Tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea) weighing up to 200 kg crop the invasive plants, and smaller Radiated Tortoises of Madagascar (Geochelone radiata) pull up the weed seedlings. Remarkably – and I had to see this for myself – they don’t touch the native plants, which co - evolved with the extinct tortoise fauna (Cylindraspis spp.) that disappeared in the late eighteenth century after French colonists shipped over 280,000 of them to Reunion and other places for butchery. These plants have defenses against tortoises and browsing birds. Notable in the latter category was the extinct Solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria) a giant pigeon endemic to Rodrigues that was even larger than the Dodo, the famous extinct denizen of Mauritius, Rodrigues’ big neighbor 650 km to the west. Through heterophylly, the adaptation of having tough, finely dissected and presumably less edible leaves near the ground where animals can reach, as well as in some cases certain plant chemicals that the tortoises apparently don’t like, and long flexible stems that tortoises seem not to trample down or chew, these plants are thriving in the midst of a high density of these hungry lumbering reptiles. A tall secure fence keeps them inside the Reserve, and keeps out the free - ranging goats, sheep, and cattle which have converted so much of the rest of this island to Lantana and other unpalatable invasives. Those ungulates, with their advanced teeth, love to eat the native plants, and have nearly driven them to extinction. I have been an advocate for this approach – reintroducing the “megafauna” back to lands where they are extinct, or their closest living relatives or even an ecological surrogate – for several decades. The scientific underpinnings for restoring ecological functions this way are quite sound, and there are plenty of examples of this “rewilding” already working around the world, from Siberia’s “Pleistocene Park” with reintroduced musk oxen, wild horses, and so forth, to American media mogul Ted Turner’s vast ranches in the western US with herds of many thousands of bison, elk, and yes – even a giant tortoise (Bolson’s) reintroduced to its former range from Mexico. You can read about these and others in my recent book1. Some years ago I even proposed something like this for Madagascar – starting with tortoises but under the right circumstances perhaps including living ratite birds, hippos, and crocodiles, in some fenced reserve lands. I doubt that most readers took me seriously then (perhaps even now). Here at the Leguat Reserve, though, rewilding is not a hypothetical proposal, it is a way of life, a major tourist attraction, and a very interesting scientific experiment. Rewilding is working here, and working wonderfully. Tortoises pull the weeds, apply the fertilizer, and germinate the seeds. Regarding the latter, recently published experiments2 show that passing through the slow digestive system of a giant tortoise is just what some of these hard - to - germinate seeds of rare native plants have been waiting for. The authors show conclusively that the highly endangered, large - seeded native ebony tree (Diospyros egrettarum) is germinating and thriving on the remarkable 25-hectare Ile aux Aigrettes Reserve, a small island off Mahebourg, Mauritius, thanks to the Aldabra tortoises reintroduced there by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. At the Leguat Reserve on Rodrigues, guides lead thousands of visitors per year through huge spectacular limestone caves that have yielded the fossils of giant tortoises, Solitaires, and the other extinct biota of Rodrigues. Their tour, and the excellent museum on the Reserve, make that wonderful connection between the fossils of a remarkable extinct fauna, and the rare plants and surviving fauna of large handsome fruit bats, rare land snails, nesting White - tailed Tropicbirds, and the surviving cousins of the native giant tortoises now roaming the canyons and plateaus of the Reserve. What am I doing here? To begin with, my wife Lida Pigott Burney and I have in recent years started our own similar rewilding project on the island of Kaua`i, in the Hawaiian Islands. We likewise have a cave system, full of fossils of the extinct animals, as a centerpiece for restorations on worn - out farmland that feature thousands of native plants, some quite rare. Our big fossil herbivores, giant flightless ducks and geese, are all extinct, and alas, tortoises never reached Hawaii. So we laboriously pull the weeds, tons of them, with the help of the school children of Kaua`i and hundreds of volunteers. The current question I and my colleagues are asking is, could giant tortoises give us a hand, serving as ecological surrogates for the lost birds? In any case, the National Geographic Society funded our team, including paleontologists Julian Hume and Lorna Steel from UK, paleo - entomologist Nick Porch and speleologist Greg Middleton from Australia, and Lida and myself as the paleoecologists, to work on the excellent fossil deposits on Rodrigues and compare them to our results from elsewhere. That work is going well, we’re finding plenty. But thanks to these lumbering living reptiles, I’m thinking all over again about the potential to use tortoises, and perhaps substitutes for other extinct megafauna, to try some rewilding at an appropriate place – such as a securely fenced, private reserve in western Madagascar – and such a place exists. Owen Griffiths, the biologist/entrepreneur who created the La Vanille Crocodile Park and Tortoise Reserve on Mauritius (inspiration for Ile aux Aigrettes) and the Leguat Reserve on Rodrigues, is hard at work in Madagascar on his private reserve lands, where he hopes to start rewilding with Aldabra tortoises and other appropriate creatures. Before you dismiss this idea as crazy, you might consider that it was Charles Darwin himself who set all this in motion. He visited Mauritius on the return voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle in 1836, where he heard about the extinct giant tortoises of that island. Many years later, he suggested that the best way to see that the thousands of giant tortoises then living on uninhabited Aldabra Island (their last stand in the Indian Ocean region) didn’t go the way of the extinct giant tortoises of Madagascar, the Mascarenes, and the Seychelles, was to move some to these other islands and establish populations, and that was done on Mauritius. People took him seriously, and the tortoises’ future looks bright. Many of Darwin’s ideas were controversial then, and some still are in some quarters. Rewilding proposals like this are still being argued, but they have the potential to “jump start” evolution when it seems to have gone hopelessly off the track. After visiting the Leguat Reserve, I’m more hopeful than ever that evolution might have a second chance.
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The original diversity of the pigeons and doves (Columbidae: Nesoenas, Columba, Alectroenas) of the Mascarene Islands (Mauritius, Réunion, Rodrigues) has been poorly understood. Only two of perhaps as many as ten species are known from skin specimens, whereas the rest are known from old accounts and subfossil remains only. Most accounts, however, do not distinguish between species, so accurate identification is difficult to determine. The introduction of non-native pigeons has further exacerbated the problem and has led to erroneous interpretation. This paper provides a detailed re-analysis of the Mascarene columbid fauna (excluding the large, terrestrial “didines”, the Dodo Raphus cucullatus and Solitaire Pezophaps solitaria), based partly on newly discovered subfossil remains. Key findings include: a new species of Alectroenas from Rodrigues and new species of Nesoenas and Columba from Mauritius; referral of the problematic species 'Columba' rodericana of Rodrigues to the genus Nesoenas; and documentation of new morphological and historical information concerning the extant Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri and the extinct Mauritius Blue Pigeon Alectroenas nitidissima. The Columbidae comprises the largest avian radiation in the Mascarenes and probably colonised the islands at least four times from Madagascar and SE Asia during low sea level stands.
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The predatory katydids of Mauritius, Rodrigues, and Réunion islands are examined. One new Hexacentrinae genus and species, and three new Phisidini species (Meconematinae) are described from Mauritius: Nepheliphila raptor n. g. n. sp., Brachyphisis nattecantor n. sp., Paradecolya expectata n. sp. and Paradecolya briseferi n. sp. The only Phisidini from Rodrigues Brachyphisis spinifera (Butler, 1876) is transferred to Rodriguesiophisis n. gen., n. comb. and the male is described for the first time. Descriptions of the two Phisidini from La Réunion Brachyphisis viettei Chopard, 1957 and Paradecolya inexpectata (Chopard, 1957) are given. The male of B. viettei is described for the first time. The song of all these species but P. briseferi n. sp. is described for the first time. In addition to these endemic species, the widespread Xiphidiopsis lita Hebard, 1922 occurs on all three Mascarene islands.
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Work on the endangered birds of Mauritius has been undertaken by the Wildlife Preservation Trusts since 1976. The Mauritius kestrel Falco punctatus has been successfully reintroduced and a population of 420-530 birds was estimated at the end of the 1996-1997 breeding season. The pink pigeon Columba mayeri has also been reintroduced to three sites. In August 1997 there were 330 known free-living birds, more than half of which had been born in the wild. The echo parakeet Psittacula eques is the focus of intensive conservation management and research work. During the 1996/1997 breeding season there were 13 known wild pairs. At the end of the breeding season there were 50-61 birds. The conservation management of all three endemic bird species is briefly described.
Article
The scincid lizard genus Gongylomorphus is endemic to the western Mascarene islands of Mauritius and Réunion in the southwest Indian Ocean, where its range was greatly reduced in the Nineteenth century, probably by an introduced southern Asian wolf snake (Lycodon aulicus capucinus) and perhaps other exotics. A phylogenetic analysis of the single recognised species of Gongylomorphus was conducted using 1473 bp of combined recent mtDNA and nuclear sequence (cytochrome b 714 bp, 12SrRNA 388 bp, c-mos 371 bp) from 40 individual Gongylomorphus and members of 13 scincid genera used as outgroups. The three recognised subspecies form monophyletic lineages that diverge by 7% for mtDNA and 0.8% for c-mos and, as they also differ in morphology, they are raised to species status here. G. fontenayi occurs in relict montane forest in southwest Mauritius and on neighbouring Flat Island; G. bojerii on this and other offshore islands north and southeast of Mauritius; and the sister of this last species, G. borbonicus was found on Reunion where it became extinct by about 1840. Phylogenetic topology suggests the ancestor of Gongylomorphus originated in Madagascar or possibly Africa, ;ising Mauritius from the west and speciating there as long as 3Ma, before a propagule from the G. bojerii lineage invaded Reunion < 2.1Ma to produce G. borbonicus. On and around Mauritius, moderate mtDNA variation exists within and between populations. Extant G. bojerii have two main haplogroups differing by ∼ 1.7%: one on the northern offshore islands (Gunners Quoin, Flat, Gabriel, Round and Serpent islands, and Pigeon House Rock) and the other in the southeast (Ilot Vacoas). But homologous sequence from a recently extinct population on Ile aux Fouquets and subfossil bones from at least one mainland site indicates that members of both haplogroups originally occurred together in the southeast. Although the G. bojerii population on Serpent Island is morphologically distinct, it is genetically undifferentiated from neighbouring populations. In G. fontenayi, a more robust orange-tailed population occurs on Flat Island over 60 km away from the remaining ones in the southwestern mountains of Mauritius but diverges from these by only 1.7% in mtDNA sequence. Subfossil material in the intervening area appears to represent intermediate haplotypes and confirms original continuity. These examples show that relict and limited material can mislead about the distinctness of allopatric populations.