Using data from thousands of species of lemurs, frogs, geckos, butterflies, ants, and plants, scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), University of California, Berkeley, and other organizations have created a gargantuan guide to help Madagascar safeguard its unique natural heritage. The study is unprecedented in terms of the number of species examined—2,315 species in 6 groups—as well as the project’s scale and resolution. The biodiversity, climate, and habitat of the entire island, nearly a third larger than the state of California, are plotted on maps with a resolution of less than a square kilometer.

“This study will help direct conservation plans to help protect the most species possible, with special consideration given to those animals and plants that are most endangered,” says Claire Kremen, a WCS associate conservationist and UC Berkeley assistant professor.

The project will help the Malagasy government reach a commitment made in 2003, when President Marc Ravalomanana pledged to triple Madagascar’s protected area network to 10 percent of its land mass. To date, it has already set aside more than six percent. WCS has helped establish Masoala National Park, Makira Forest, and Sahamalaza Radma Islands National Park. The study found that these reserves currently protect 70 percent of the species examined, and recommended how the country could expand the reserve system the extra 4 percent to protect 100 percent of the target species. It also identified completely new areas for conservation.

“WCS has had a presence in Madagascar since 1990, and will soon feature the beauty of Madagascar and the value of our conservation work on the island in a fabulous new exhibit at our Bronx Zoo headquarters,” says Steven E. Sanderson, WCS president and CEO.

The exhibit is being created inside the zoo’s former Lion House, a state-of-the-art energy efficient, green building, and the first landmarked building in New York to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification. Madagascar! will open on June 19, 2008.