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Madagascar: Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management (SIT)


Todd Heidt

Director, Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies

2 East South Street

Galesburg, IL 61401-4999



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This SIT program offers classroom and field-based instruction in natural and social scientific methods encouraging analysis of complex environmental issues in an array of ecosystems - including rainforest, dry spiny thicket, alpine and transitional forest, savannah, gallery and littoral forest, mangrove, and coral reef - and within multiple economic, socio-political, and cultural contexts. Major topics of study include:

  • Lemur ecology
  • Ethnobotany
  • Marine studies
  • Conservation  and protected-areas management in Madagascar
  • Root causes of biodiversity loss, including mining and economic development, deforestation, slash and burn agriculture, and cash crop production
  • Balancing environmental protection with livelihood needs from local to global scales

The program is based in Fort Dauphin (Tolagnaro), a town of approximately 50,000 people. Situated on a peninsula at the southern end of a chain of rainforested mountains, Fort Dauphin is surrounded on three sides by the Indian Ocean and is home to some of the country's cleanest and most beautiful beaches. Five distinct ecosystems (rainforest, spiny thicket, gallery zones, coastal vegetation, and transitional areas) exist within a fifty-mile radius of Fort Dauphin, making it a good base from which to take a variety of educational excursions. 

Students will be exposed to spectacular natural settings, and will explore the human pressures placed on the country's ecosystems and possibilities for the future. Students will grapple with a host of issues pitting conservation against development in a variety of ecosystems. Students will have opportunities to explore a variety of integrated themes in collaboration with Malagasy partners. The program offers thematic units on biodiversity, lemur ecology, conservation and environmental management, environmental impacts of mining and economic development, forest types and land use over time, ethnobotany, ecotourism, and marine studies.

During the village stay, students will work closely with Malagasy counterparts on a community study using participatory rural appraisal techniques. Project activities may include ecological inventories, community maps, resource flows, market studies, and interviews, which together illuminate how local people view and use natural resources, as well as the impact of that use on the environment. Students will synthesize data and present findings in French on the physical, cultural, and social aspects of the village upon return to Fort Dauphin.

During excursions outside of Fort Dauphin, students will witness current conversation challenges, such as deforestation for cattle grazing and mining, slash and burn agriculture, charcoal production and fuel-wood use, production of non-food cash crops, and illicit trade in endangered species. Madagascar's national system of park management is juxtaposed with local livelihood practices, where people view the forest as a source of food, shelter, energy and medicine.

During the final month of the semester, you will focus on an Independent Study Project (ISP) in which you will conduct primary research on a selected topic. Sample topics include:

  • Behavioral ecology of lemurs
  • Community-based resource management
  • Coral reef management and conservation
  • Cash crop production and links to local livelihoods
  • Medicinal plants in the marketplace
  • Carbon sequestration and financing
  • Ecotourism
  • Land tenure reform and agricultural production
  • Sacred forests
  • Sustainable land use techniques

Learn more about the SIT Madagascar: Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management Program and other SIT programs


Credits: 4.5 for fall or spring semester

Advisors: Professors Katherine Adelsberger, Jennifer Templeton and Jim Mountjoy

Click here for more information about the application process, program selection, and more!

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Printed on Monday, May 23, 2022