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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

The PEER team visited four project sites were during the reporting period from November 2019 to January 2020: Lakato, Anosibean’ala, Atsiranana and Antanambao Manampotsy. The same standard sampling protocol established by a consortium formed by ETH Zurich, MBG and the University of Antananarivo was applied during the campaigns in order to develop a reference sample collection that can be used with different identification techniques. 

Since November 15, 2019, the field team conducted 1,559 collections at all four sites, including 33 samples of Dalbergia and 54 samples of Diospyros, generating a total of 501 herbarium specimens, 354 wood samples for anatomical and massspectrometry studies, 64 bark samples for morphological and anatomical investigation, 149 leaf samples for morphometrics, and 262 silica-gel preserved samples for DNA analysis, all accompanied by photos and comprehensive field data. This material now comprises the foundation of a comprehensive Reference Library for use by members of the Malagasy Precious Woods Consortium.

All information associated with the collected samples was captured and archived in the Tropicos database ( available on-line through the Madagascar Catalogue project. Currently, in the Plant Anatomy Laboratory (LABAP), 563 herbarium specimens are carefully mounted and 601 wood specimens are polished and available for the Reference Library.

Thanks to the ongoing collaboration with the EU project, the team was able to begin the wood anatomy lab work. The collected specimens from EU and PEER projects were analyzed at the same time to have the required number of replicates that is statistically valid. In total, 7 of Dalbergia and 7 Diospyros species were analyzed and completed with the samples from the previous project.

In terms of in-situ conservation, in collaboration with the protected area promoters and partners, nurseries of Ambohidray, Tsitongambarika, Ampasindava and Marolambo were established and running since October 2019. Field gene bank containing more than 10 000 living plants exist at each site. Managers from local communities were trained in seed/fruit collecting methods and propagation techniques. Undergraduate students began  seed and leaf/wood morphology/anatomy studies to discover practical characters and support taxonomic revision.

The team plan to move the Reference Library collections of Malagasy precious wood from EU and PEER projects into the new building by the end of March 2020. 

7-477_Ambohidray nurseries7-477_Harisoa_redwood stump
 Ambohidray nurseries. Photo credit: Harisoa RavaomanalinaRosewood stump. Photo credit: Lina Stankute Alexander
Outreach and collaboration
The Government of Madagascar plans to prepare 1,000,000 plants of all species per region before the next reforestation campaign in March 2020. This project contributes to this objective by planting Malagasy precious wood and setting up nurseries in 4 regions: Tsitongambarika for Anosy region, Marolambo for Amoron'i Mania, Ambohidary for Alaotra Mangoro and Ampasindava for Diana. PEER team collaborated with the DREDD (Direction Régionale de l’Environnement et du Développement Durable) for this purpose. This project work directly with local communities VOI (VOndron'olona Ifotony) who rely on forests products via PEER partners (DBEV, Asity, Famelona and MNP), it will provide them tools and knowledge to ensure precious wood reforestation for generations to come. Collected specimens from this PEER project interested the members of the Malagasy Precious Woods Consortium, i.e., colleagues working at the École Supérieure des Sciences Agronomiques (ESSA) Forêts of the University of Antananarivo, ETH Zurich, and the Missouri Botanical Garden Paris and Missouri. Members of the Precious Woods Consortium from these institutions collaborated closely and efficiently to ensure good project planning, coordination, and stakeholder engagement.

Potential development impact

The objective of establishing a reference sample collection is ongoing by using the newly developed sampling strategy. Thus far, the project played a key role in catalyzing communication and collaboration among Malagasy and international experts, solidifying a shared understanding and a vision of an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to address the need for a reliable and accurate set of identification tools. These results contribute to the establishment of practical and reliable identification methods that can be used by the forest administration and all actors responsible for the implementation of the CITES Convention.

Thanks to the field work conducted resulting in more than 200 collections and detailed population observations of Malagasy Dalbergia and Diospyros, according to Harisoa, the members of the Malagasy Precious Woods Consortium and key stakeholders now have a clear understanding of the taxonomic situation in Dalbergia and Diospyros and are aware of the implications regarding the conservation status of the potentially exploitable species in these two genera, including those that require significant re-circumscription as well as those that are new to sciences and are now being circumscribed.


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