On the eve of 2010, International Year of Biodiversity, the National Museum of Natural History and Pro-Natura International are working in partnership with IUCN to launch' Our Planet Reviewed', an unprecedented programme of naturalist expeditions.
The expeditions will span ten years to conduct a massive inventory of biodiversity in geographical areas which, up until now, have been little explored.
The objective is to accelerate the scientific discovery of new species, by focusing our efforts on the regions of the planet which are considered a priority in terms of nature conservation.
Madagascar and Mozambique received the first of a series of expeditions on sea and land in April 2009. The last is scheduled for June 2010.
Under the leadership of Professor Philippe Bouchet, from the National Museum of Natural History, and Olivier Pascal, from Pro-Natura International, these expeditions aim to develop existing knowledge of biodiversity in regions which are considered to be the richest in species, but which are also lesser known and the most threatened on the planet.
Over four months of research in the field, around a hundred participants across all disciplines, from all around the world, and exceptional technical resources bear witness to the scale of this inventory project.
These new expeditions will draw on the expertise acquired during Santo 2006, an inventory operation carried out in the Vanuatu archipelago, in the heart of the South Pacific, which revealed several hundred new species.
Essentially dedicated to neglected biodiversity, such as marine and land invertebrates, plants and fungi, which represent 95 percent of biodiversity and play a fundamental role in the balance of ecosystems, the Mozambique/ Madagascar project intends to return this field of research, all too often ignored in favour of large fauna, to its proper place and thereby encourage new conservation policies, which are no longer solely based on emblematic species.
Disappearing habitats (forests, coral reefs), overexploitation, pollution, climate change - there are numerous causes for the disappearance of living things and the scale of the biodiversity crisis is now proven. The actual number of living species could be between eight and 30 million, yet only 1.8 million are currently known. A quarter, or even half, of these species could disappear from the planet by the middle or the end of this century; the issues at stake are therefore substantial and, now more than ever, it is time to start a new pattern of exploring and describing biodiversity.
Mozambique and Madagascar are home to an exceptionally rich flora and fauna, which is still largely unknown, despite the attention which has been accorded to Madagascar, in particular, by nature protection organizations over a number of years. Therefore, it is natural that these two large countries should form a strategic target for scientists.
The Museum has created a bilingual website (French/English) entirely dedicated to the project: This allows the public to follow the expeditions, take a look behind the scenes and share the researchers day to day experience through photos, reports, interviews and much more. www.laplaneterevisitee.org and www.ourplanetreviewed.org
The Ploughshare Tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora) was uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered in 2008. This species has a very small range, occurring only around Baly Bay in northwestern Madagascar. The total wild population is estimated at about 600 individuals and is declining. Its current restricted range and past declines are believed to be the result of exploitation (poaching for the international pet trade) and habitat loss caused by deliberate fires. It is near certain that the species will become extinct within the next generation (42 years) if the current level of threats continue unabated.
Photo © Anders Rhodin.