In 2017 I went to Madagascar to look for birds and wildlife. The fourth largest island in the world is home to a large collection of plants and wildlife seen nowhere else. It has several distinct types of terrain: mountainous forests, rainforests, dry (spiny) forests and deserts. This is one of the reasons for the variety of life there.
One of the first places many visit in Madagascar is Perinet, a group of wilderness areas in the rainforest. From Antananarivo, the capital, we drove half a day and checked into a hotel in Perinet, where Andasibe National Park was going to be the starting point of our adventures.
After resting for the night, we headed for Adasibe early next morning. We had to cross a large grassy area. At its edge, before entering the forest, we found a surprising number of birds including sunbirds, white-eyes, stonechats, doves and bulbuls. Inside the forest we found some birds but they were hard to photograph due to the darkness and height of the trees. At one point I saw a beautiful Madagascar Blue Pigeon which I tried hard to capture without luck.
We headed out of the forest in the late afternoon. At forest's edge, before entering the open grassy area, I saw a group of Madagascar Blue Pigeons once again. This time they were easy to photograph.
We had a similar experience the next day at the Mantadia National Park – many of the birds we saw, including Sakalava and Nelicourvi Weavers, were at the edge of the forest.
For me, finding so many birds at forest's edge was unexpected as I had anticipated finding most birds deep inside the forest.
Later, I learned that in both these spots – before entering the forest and just after leaving it – I had found luck in the ecotone. An ecotone is an abrupt change in vegetation or two adjacent, different community types, producing a narrow ecological zone between them. An ecotone can exist on many different physical sizes, from narrow to wide, from local to regional.
In practical terms, if you are observing nature, an ecotone is where interesting things happen. Ecotones provide home for a large number of species, but also see influx of animals looking for food and nesting sites. Thus they become home to a larger gene pool than the neighbouring areas. An ecotone can serve as a buffer and protect an area from possible natural or environmental disaster. In a broad sense, the Sundarban forest can be considered an ecotone, serving as a transition between the ocean and mainland Bangladesh. As such, it absorbs the shocks of major storms such as Sidr and Aila, saving mainland Bangladesh from disaster.
Within Sundarban, too, there are ecotones of a smaller scale which are richer in life than places deep inside the forest. In a recent research project, Dr. M. Sayedur Rahman counted the number of plant species in Sundarban. In his findings, he singles out forest margins as being the most common habitat of diverse plants.
So the next time you are in the field, forest or water, keep an eye out at the edges, where interesting things can happen out in the open.
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