Vongy, named after Vongaory, which is the word for "beetle" in Malagasy Language, is the name of the character of a comic that will help telling students in Madagascar about the value of research to preserve the biodiversity and environment of the Great Red Island of the Indian Ocean.
The comic Vongy. An Adventure Among Scientists -- which has 3000 copies edited in Spanish, English, French and German -- is an initiative of the group made by Xavier Declòs, Professor of Paleontology at the Faculty of Geology and member of the Biodiversity Research Institute of the University of Barcelona (IRBio); Mónica M. Solórzano Kraemer, from the Senckenberg Research Institute of Frankfurt (Germany), and Enrique Peñalver and Ana Rodrigo, from the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain (IGME), and it is illustrated by the graphic designer Imke Trostbach.
The world of paleontology research in pictures
"The idea of presenting our scientific work in a comic came out in Madagascar around trees that produce Hymenaea verrucosa resin, collected insects, spiders and resin. We thought it would be convenient to tell kids and adults in Madagascar the reasons why we had traveled to their country, the value in the science of resin and the fauna of insects and spiders, and the importance of preserving the biodiversity" the authors said. "Thus, through a discovery adventure, which includes a dangerous journey through the ocean, we want to show the processes of resin trapping and dispersion of species."
Amber and copal are fossil resin that can have trapped insects from millions of years ago and still be well preserved, which helps to make morphological comparisons with the current creatures. Since 2015, the team of experts has studied the Malagasy amber, copal deposits and trapped biota in the fossil resins in North Madagascar -- particularly in Montagne d'Ambre- with a project funded by the National Geographic Global Exploration Fund, with the support of the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments in Madagascar (MICET) and the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. These fossil resins -- an image of the natural ecosystems from thousands of years ago- are also indicators of the worrying process of biodiversity-loses in Madagascar due to human activity.
Trapped by tree resin thousands of years ago
According to Professor Xavier Delclòs, "nowadays we have tenths of thousands of insects that were trapped in these traps -- separated and classified. The insects and spiders we find inside the resin are analyzed to compare the existing angles between the fauna surrounding the trees and the animals that get trapped inside the resin, so we can figure out the register we find inside the amber from million years ago. We also compare the trapped insects in old resins (copal) of the Hymenaea tree with the current fauna to analyze the loss of diversity in Madagascar."
When the worst threat is man himself
"The worst threat for Madagascar biodiversity is man himself" says Delclòs. "Malagasians use wood as their main fuel at home, and that is why there are so many forests disappear. Lately, the State is controlling careless forest-burning to get coal without authorization, but this consumption is still deep-rooted, also because there is no chance of getting any other combustible at affordable prices for most of the people."
"Except for the East, which is dominated by a wide strip of tropical forest, almost all Madagascar is a vast dry area which has almost no vegetation. The government has to establish large areas of national parks to protect the forest they still have. Lots of flora and fauna in Madagascar are endemic and located especially in the tropical forest."
The new comic, which tells the adventures of Vongy and his friends in Madagascar and Central America, will be a teaching tool distributed in schools and centers to make people conscious about the dramatic effects of the clearest of forests in the fourth biggest island in the world. This project was funded by the National Geographic Global Exploration Fund Northern Europe, the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Spain) and the German Research Foundation (Germany).
The comic can be seen in this link: http://www.senckenberg.de/files/Vongy_Comic/vongy_en_web.pdf
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