Blog by MBP Volunteer- Nina Hamilton
As part of the reforestation team, Andre, one of our nursery assistants, and I joined the Varecia team in the forest last week to collect seeds to germinate in our reforestation nurseries. A key part of the reforestation program, we collect seeds from Varecia poop (yes, poop) for our nurseries. Varecia are an ideal lemur species for this since they tend to eat the fruits whole (even larger ones) and poop out the seed. We do this for a few reasons. First of all, we know that the species we collect from Varecia poop are species that the Varecia thrive in, since they obviously enjoy their fruit. Secondly, seeds that have passed through an animal’s digestive track have a higher germination success rate since the hard seed coat is weakened during digestion. Many of the species that we collect from the forest and from Varecia poop are slow growing and require a lot of shade, so we mix in pioneers to provide shade and quickly improve the microclimate for the forest species that we plant.
Although most of the seeds we collect are from fruits that Varecia eat, it turns out that Varecia also munch on the leaves of some species. One such species is natsiona (in the family Fabaceae) whose seeds we don’t collect from fruit, but instead from pods. We’ve been growing natsiona in the nursery and planting it throughout our reforestation corridor for many months now. Interestingly, natsiona has been an ideal species in the nursery because it grows rapidly, very similar to our pioneer species. It was a very cool surprise to see up close, in the field, a Varecia eating the leaves of a young natsiona tree, one of the many species we had just planted in the field a week before. This has been one of my most rewarding experiences in the forest here – seeing a lemur eating parts of a tree of exactly the same species that we are planting in our reforestation corridor, which will one day be forest (and lemur habitat), too.