Berenty Reserve - a gallery forest in decline in dry southern Madagascar - towards forest restoration.
Berenty Reserve, a fully protected gallery forest beside the Mandrare River is renowned for its lemurs, but the continuous canopy of the main forest is shrinking, fragmenting and degrading. The aim of this study, before any restoration can be considered, is to investigate why canopy-cover is declining and define the forest's vegetation status and composition. Our study includes analysis of tamarind age (the dominant species) and regeneration, forest extent, climate and soil. Measurement of trunk circumference and annual rings indicated a median age of 190 years, near the accepted maximum for tamarinds. There is no regeneration of tamarind seedlings under the canopy and an invasive vine, Cissus quadrangularis suffocates any regeneration on the forest margins. A vegetation survey, based on fifteen transects, broadly characterized three forest areas: continuous canopy near the river, transitional canopy with fewer tall trees, and degraded dryland; the survey also provided a list of the 18 most common tree species. Ring counts of flood-damaged roots combined with measurement to the riverbank show that erosion rates, up to 19.5 cm/year, are not an immediate threat to forest extent. The highly variable climate shows no trend and analysis of forest soil indicates compatibility with plant growth.