Conservation of an Island Biodiversity Hotspot

The government of Mahandar wants to expand biodiversity conservation efforts on the island. The government has two goals: 1) to protect the overall biodiversity and sustainability of the island ecosystem, and 2) to protect the endemic primates that live in the forests on the island. The endangered primates are unique and very sensitive to habitat changes. This puts them at a higher risk of extinction. The primates have also become a well-known attraction for ecotourists from around the world. The government has enough funds to fully support conservation at only one of four forest areas being considered for conservation. You are a member of the conservation team that will advise the government as to which area should get full conservation support.

Instructions: Examine the map of the island and the primate evolutionary tree, and read (carefully) the descriptions of the 4 possible conservation areas on the following pages. Use this information to complete questions 1-4.

1. Examine the map of the island (attached), with the 4 proposed conservation sites.

a. Does the shape of the proposed conservation area matter? Which area(s) are shaped in a desirable way? Which areas are shaped in a detrimental way? Explain.

b. Does the size of the proposed conservation area matter? Explain.

2. Carefully examine the phylogenetic tree for the primates of Mahandar (attached).

a. What is the number of the node that represents the most recent common ancestor for all of the primates collectively living in each of the four areas.

b. Which forest area displays the least variation in its primates? Explain how you determined this.

c. Which forest area displays the most variation in its primates? Explain how you determined this.

d. If the government of Mahandar is trying to preserve the biodiversity of the primates, do it matter which forest is conserved? Explain your answer.

3. Read the descriptions of the 4 proposed conservation areas (attached). Use that information to completely fill out the following chart.

Forest area Environmental

benefit if conserved


benefit if conserved

Trade-offs (“cons”) of

Conserving the area

Mangrove Forest
Tropical Forest North
Tropical Forest South
Cloud Forest

4. Based on all the information you have, which forest area do you think should be conserved? Explain your reasoning. (Note: there is no one correct answer to this question, which means your explanation of the reasoning is extremely important to the scoring of your answer!)

The island of Mahandar

Phylogenetic Analysis of the Mahandarian Primates

Below is a phylogenetic tree for the primates on Mahandar. The tree shows evolutionary data for primate taxa that are endemic to the island. Use this picture to answer question 2.

Four Possible Conservation Areas

1. Mangrove Forest

land area to be conserved (%) 7
number of endemic species in the area 14
number of endemic species threatened 7

Unique Characteristics

The mangrove forest on the island is dense with stilt mangrove trees and shrubs that grow in brackish coastal swamps. The roots of the mangrove trees filter the salts out of seawater. They also filter silt and nutrients from river water, allowing clear water to flow to the nearby coral reef. The vegetation serves an important role in the coastal area as a buffer to protect the nearby shoreline villages from hurricanes and other storms. The vegetation also prevents erosion along the riverbanks. Mangroves provide food and shelter to a variety of organisms.

Conservation Considerations

In recent years, partly because of mangrove forest degradation, the inland areas of the island have been damaged by flooding from severe storms that have blown in. Almost all of the buildings and houses in one village were lost to the flooding. The villagers lost their crops and homes, and had to move to other areas.

If the area is conserved, the island government plans to offer limited permits at a reasonable cost for sustainable ecotourism to the area. For those who live on the island, ecotourism would provide jobs ranging from researchers and tour guides to restaurant waiters, cooks, hotel workers, drivers, and boat crewmen. People who make handicrafts and other goods also would earn money by selling their wares to tourists. Park fees would bring in revenue that would also contribute to the island’s economy.

Currently, island residents have unlimited access to the mangrove forest for fishing and shrimping. Some fishermen have small businesses in which they sell their catch at local markets. Others fish for recreation or to feed their families. If the mangrove is conserved, a strict catch limit will be enforced in order to protect the food sources for a variety of organisms in the ecosystem. The new limits could force the local fishermen to downsize their businesses and reduce their income.

2. Tropical Rainforest North

land area to be conserved (%) 6
number of endemic species in the area 135
number of endemic species threatened 10

Unique Characteristics

The tropical rainforest is the most biodiverse area on the island, although the northern region of the rainforest is less diverse than the southern region. The earliest settlers in the northern area introduced new plants and animals to provide sources of food, medicine, building materials, and decoration. They cleared land to plant agricultural crops, and hunted lizards and birds for additional food. Since the first settlers came to the area, logging, development, and agriculture have destroyed 95% of the northern region’s forest.

Conservation Considerations

A small family-run business harvests coffee from the plants they have grown in this forest area. The exported coffee is a desirable commodity for people in other countries, and it is marketed as some of the best quality and most sustainable in the world. It benefits the family and a small number of workers hired to help with the harvest. If the forest is designated

for conservation, the family will no longer have access to the forest for their coffee. This would

mean lost income, with family members and the small number of people employed by the business losing their jobs. However, the species that live in the remaining 3% of undeveloped area will be protected.

3. Tropical Rainforest South

land area to be conserved (%) 10
number of endemic species in the area 254
number of endemic species threatened 75

Unique Characteristics

The southern region of the tropical rainforest is the most biodiverse on the island. It is

larger than the northern region of the rainforest, and because the earliest settlers remained mostly in the northern region of the forest, this area was not as severely deforested as the north. Medical research scientists search for unique species in this area that may provide substances for new medicines. A number of tree-dwelling species depend on the tall trees as a highway that allows them to move around the forest without having to travel on the


Conservation Considerations

If this area were conserved, the vast biodiversity of the area would be protected, including the plant species central to pharmaceutical research and product development. Research scientists would be assigned permits to collect specimens in a sustainable manner from the area. Recently, a team of scientists was sent to the island to research a plant found nowhere else that shows potential as a new malaria treatment. If the treatment is successful, it could save millions of lives. The research institute signed an agreement with the Mahandar government that a percentage of the profit made from products containing substances from Mahandar plants will go back into the island economy.

If this area is conserved, the government plans to build a primate center to research and protect the endemic primates that live in the island forests. This center will also be the focus of a program to educate the public. Permits will be available for ecotourists to visit the center to observe the primates and learn more about them through tours and exhibits. However, the cost of the permits will be much higher for this remote area than the cost to tour the mangrove forest. The primate center and access for ecotourists will require the construction of roads and facilities, which will be done in the most sustainable manner possible. For island residents it will provide such jobs as tour guides, drivers, lab technicians, and instructors.

4. Tropical Montane Cloud Forest

land area to be conserved (%) 3
number of endemic species in the area 11
number of endemic species threatened 5

Unique Characteristics

The tropical montane cloud forest ecosystem plays an important role in the water cycle and climate on the island. Experiments have shown that cloud forests prevent the evaporation of precipitation far better than non-cloud forests do. The precipitation in the cloud forest is mostly in the form of fog, which condenses on the trees and drips onto the ground. The water soaks into the soil, where it is stored. Any excess runoff drains into stagnant water pools in the forest. The large water supply in the soil and the pools supports a wide variety of organisms.

Conservation Considerations

Such human activities as logging and clearing the land to plant crops have degraded the cloud forest on Mahandar. This is a concern because during the dry season it is important that water from the cloud forest reaches the lower elevations where it is needed for irrigation, power generation, and drinking water. Recently, there have been reports of pollution problems with the water supply in another area of the island. Because of these reports, the government is concerned that in the future there will not be an adequate supply of clean water for the island. If conserved, the cloud forest would supply one source of clean drinking water.

Two decades ago, a corporation bought a portion of the cloud forest to develop a large tea plantation. The tea is highly desirable worldwide because the unique growing conditions give it a flavor that people love. Currently, there is a plan underway to expand the plantation to meet the growing demand for the tea. If the cloud forest is conserved, the tea plantation would not be permitted to expand, the company would not increase its profits, and no additional jobs for islanders would be created.

However, if the area were conserved, the risk of further adverse effects on the water cycle, climate, and organisms that depend on these resources would be reduced. For example, there is a rare species of endemic frog that inhabits only the cloud forest. It lives in bushes close to shallow pools of standing water and breeds in the standing water. If the forest area is not conserved, the frog might be further endangered.

Adapted from curriculum provided by the Science Education for Public Understanding Program

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