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Cycle 7 (2018 Deadline)

Building a reference collection for Malagasy rosewood, palissander and ebony identification

PI: Bako Harisoa Ravaomanalina (, University of Antananarivo Madagascar
U.S. Partner: John Hermanson and Michael Wiemann, United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory
Project dates: November 2018 - November 2020

Project Overview:

7-477_Harisoa in Lab
This project is motivated by the problem of ongoing illegal logging of precious timber species in Madagascar. Madagascar is a source of two commercially important precious woods derived from species in the genera Dalbergia and Diospyros that are known by the vernacular names rosewood, palissander, and ebony. The ever-increasing demand for precious timber on the international market has led to a massive increase of illegal exploitation in Madagascar in recent years. Despite existing national trade bans, illegal exploitation continues unabated in many forested areas. The inability of the Malagasy government to curb illegal exploitation and trade has resulted in the listing of logs and sawn wood of both Dalbergia and Diospyros in Appendix II of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The listing is necessary to impose monitoring over the trade legality of wood and wood products and help ensure that exploitation is not detrimental to the survival of the exploited species of concern. However, monitoring the trade through identification of individual species and points of origin is difficult when botanical materials such as leaves, flowers, and fruits are no longer associated with timber products (for example, standing trees that are not in flower/fruit, or logs or sawn wood). Additionally, gaps in the taxonomic circumscription of species of Dalbergia and Diospyros are subject to much debate. Up to now, Malagasy precious woods have been traded under the local vernacular names rosewood, palissander, and ebony. Reliable species identification requires a reference wood sample that is connection to accurately identified botanical material, yet no such vouchered library of woods of Malagasy Dalbergia and Diospyros exists today.

Project objectives
(1) Develop accurately identified collections of wood specimens and their associated herbarium vouchers of all Malagasy CITES listed Dalbergia and Diospyros species. These collections will be used for taxonomic revisions and for establishing and validating different identification systems. A reference collection for all species will include supplemental information for each sample and will provide a set of reliably identified reference samples for use with the development of emerging wood identification methods. 
(2) Finalize identification systems that are being developed by Dr. Ravaomanalina based on wood anatomy and extended analytic-based wood species tools, incorporating the results of the wood anatomy and machine learning research of Drs. Wiemann and Hermanson;
(3)  Reduce species extinction risk by promoting ex-situ conservation at four sampling sites and/or protected areas.The team will set up nurseries to grow young plants and promote the planting of rosewood, palissander, and ebony throughout Madagascar

Developmental impact
This project will facilitate an exhaustive inventory of species of Dalbergia and Diospyros throughout Madagascar and help decision makers to evaluate the current status of the country’s precious wood resources. The project will also contribute to Madagascar’s efforts to replace the current unsustainable, abusive and often illegal trade in precious woods with a sustainable and equitable commercial system, one that both provides tangible benefits to local communities and promotes exploitation at levels that will generate reliable, steady income over decades. In the current system, only a few actors benefit from the harvest and sale of Dalbergia and Diospyros, and there is little or no incentive to manage these valuable resources sustainably. Yet a well-organized and managed system to manage and oversee the commercialization of precious woods could make an important contribution to economic development, generating significant revenue locally among the low-income populations that live in close proximity to areas that still have precious wood resources, as well as at the regional and national levels. The activities proposed here will help the scientific community meet its commitment to deliver key elements required for a properly controlled and well manage commercial precious woods sector, and without which sustainable exploitation will remain impossible.

Summary of Recent Activities

Field collection and preparation of reference samples
The main goal was to establish a fully documented reference sample collection and identification system for all CITES-listed Malagasy Dalbergia and Diospyros species. Before the teams went to the field, training was conducted with the sampling protocol to make sure that everyone understood what each individual needs to sample and what information needs to be recorded. Two teams were formed to collect samples in four different areas of Madagascar. Thanks to previous and ongoing funded projects and to achieve a comprehensive reference collection encompassing all recognized species in Madagascar, the project team have identified priority areas for this project’s field campaigns, based on available knowledge about species distribution ranges. Sampling campaigns were conducted in (1) Daraina forest, (2) Tsitongambarika forest, (3) Ankarafantsika forest, and (4) Lakato-Moramanga forest. Thanks to these four sampling campaigns, the researchers have created a precious wood reference collection  encompassing about 353 samples that represent approximately 39 endemic Dalbergia, 39 Diospyros, and 2 lookalike species from four regions of Madagascar: Alaotra Mangoro, Anosy, Boeny, and Sava. They used a standard sampling protocol established by a consortium formed by ETH Zurich, MBG, and the University of Antananarivo, so they collection will be usable with different techniques. One full set of samples has been deposited at the University of Antananarivo for storage and subsequent wood anatomical and molecular analysis. Another full set of samples will be exported to the experts on both genera, Pete Lowry and Georges Schatz in Missouri for Diospyros and Pete Phillipson for Dalbergia species to be identified. All information associated with the collected samples is archived in Tropicos (

In Situ Conservation
Three of the four planned nurseries have been established: Ambohidray, Tsitongambarika, and Ampasindava. The team has not yet established the Marolambo nursery because of its inaccessibility during the rainy season. The nurseries in Ampasindava and Tsitongambarika were created in collaboration with the protected area promoters Association Famelona and Asity Madagascar. MBG and DBEV have collaborated on many projects about Malagasy precious wood over the last ten years. Aware of the importance of training Malagasy botanical specialists particularly in Dalbergia and Diospyros, each year MBG organizes training workshops for young botanists to strengthen their capacity. This year, the training focused on how to recognize the genus Dalbergia and certain species, especially the target species of the collection campaigns for the ongoing Dalbergia and Diospyros species projects. The use of GPS  for relocating populations of target species in order to have more precision on the georeferencing of the locality of the target species and taking photos of the collections or landscapes/habitats were discussed.
Future plans
During the remainder of 2019, the team plans to continue the sample collection campaigns and buy a computer, two microscopes, and binoculars. The nursery in Marolambo will be set up in collaboration with MNP. As soon as the field campaign for collecting samples is finished, the team will start the wood anatomical analysis lab work. At that point the USG-supported partners will join to finalize identification systems that are being developed based on wood anatomy and extended analytic-based wood species tools, incorporating the results of the wood anatomy and machine learning research of Drs. Wiemann and Hermanson. 

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