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Extinct Madagascar

Picturing the Island’s Past

The landscapes of Madagascar have long delighted zoologists, who have discovered, in and among the island’s baobab trees and thickets, a dizzying array of animals, including something approaching one hundred species of lemur. Madagascar’s mammal fauna, for example, is far more diverse, and more endemic, than early explorers and naturalists ever dreamed of. But in the past 2,500 or so years—a period associated with natural climatic shifts and ecological change, as well as partially coinciding with the arrival of the island’s first human settlers—a considerable proportion of Madagascar’s forests have disappeared; and in the wake of this loss, a number of species unique to Madagascar have vanished forever into extinction.

In Extinct Madagascar, noted scientists Steven M. Goodman and William L. Jungers explore the recent past of these land animal extinctions. Beginning with an introduction to the geologic and ecological history of Madagascar that provides context for the evolution, diversification, and, in some cases, rapid decline of the Malagasy fauna, Goodman and Jungers then seek to recapture these extinct mammals in their environs. Aided in their quest by artist Velizar Simeonovski’s beautiful and haunting digital paintings—images of both individual species and ecosystem assemblages reproduced here in full color—Goodman and Jungers reconstruct the lives of these lost animals and trace their relationships to those still living.

Published in conjunction with an exhibition of Simeonovski’s artwork set to open at the Field Museum, Chicago, in the fall of 2014, Goodman and Jungers’s awe-inspiring book will serve not only as a sobering reminder of the very real threat of extinction, but also as a stunning tribute to Madagascar’s biodiversity and a catalyst for further research and conservation.

See sample pages from the book (PDF format).

296 pages | 21 color plates, 87 halftones, 12 tables | 8 1/2 x 11 | © 2014

Biological Sciences: Conservation, Ecology, Natural History


"A hauntingly beautiful book."

Oliver Sacks

"The modern fauna of Madagascar reflects the country’s long history of isolation from Africa (and Eurasia), despite its relatively close proximity. All its primates, for example, are in the broad ‘lemur’ category, found nowhere else today. Its mammalian fossil record is very short, almost all within the last 5,000 years. But the diversity is high, with seventeen species of extinct ‘lemur,’ including many far larger in size than their extant cousins. In this volume, zoologist Goodman and paleoanthropologist Jungers present these past denizens of Madagascar to a wide audience. . . . A superb book for all readers, including those for whom Madagascar is unknown. Highly recommended.”

E. Delson, CUNY Herbert H. Lehman College | Choice

“Large faunal species disappeared from Madagascar at a time when humans were certainly present on the island. A deduction, though not a parsimonious one, purported by many scholars is to attribute these extinctions to the hands of man, whether as a primary or contributory factor. . . . By contrast, in Extinct Madagascar, Steven M. Goodman and William L. Jungers explore in greater depth than the current literature presently offers the recent past of these animals through specific case studies presented by sites and by species. Each site is splendidly illustrated by the artist Velizar Simeonovski in arresting artworks, depicting how some of these animals may have lived or gone extinct based on available palaeontological evidence. These plates allow the reader a pictorial (though still speculative) glance of the past. . . . Extinct Madagascar provides superb information on a large number of palaeontological sites, contextualising the ecological uniqueness of each site. . . . The material presented should certainly provide more ‘meat’ to pursue research on the elusive nature of past extinction processes in Madagascar, especially if the past is to be used as a guide to conservation of biodiversity. This is more relevant than ever, with the huge challenge facing biodiversity in Madagascar today with continuing climate change and increasing human population impacts.”

Malika Virah-Sawmy, University of New South Wales, Australia | Holocene

“Extinct Madagascar is an excellent and comprehensive work with a broad appeal across many disciplines. For those interested in Madagascar and rigorously testing hypotheses regarding paleoenvironment, community ecology, and extinction, this book is invaluable and represents a comprehensive synthesis of what is known about the island’s past environments, the role of humans in environmental change, and the mechanisms of extinction. This glimpse back in time constitutes an impressive tribute to Madagascar’s biodiversity as well as a reminder of the reality and threat of extinction. With a devastating extinction event occurring right before our eyes, the island’s future relies on whether or not we choose to act, and the actions taken will likely be more effective if they begin with an understanding of the environmental change that has already occurred.”

Karen E. Samonds, Northern Illinois University | Journal of Mammalogy

“Goodman and Jungers have carefully discussed each subfossil site and its community. . . . Extremely useful to both biologists and policy makers to have these two volumes [Extinct Madagascar and the Atlas of Selected Land Vertebrates of Madagascar] published and easily accessible. Not only are sighting, trapping, and paleontological sites labeled and mapped, but the type of forest and ecosystem is also clear. Current threats to the fauna are also outlined. Recent renaming of taxonomic groups based on molecular evidence is also clarified, making this information very useful to young scientists. The authors, well-known, seasoned scientists, are praised for excellent fieldwork and thorough scholarship in presenting these data of Malagasy fauna past and present.”

Patricia Chapple Wright, Stony Brook University | Quarterly Review of Biology

“Another masterpiece from Steve Goodman, this time in partnership with Bill Jungers (who brings his palaeontology and eco-morphology expertise to the fore), that provides fascinating reconstructions of the fate of some of the extraordinary fauna of Madagascar. Throughout, the exquisite plates by Velizar Simeonovski, which combine superb artistic work with anatomical understanding, underpin the work. The book is extremely accessible for non-academic readers, who will gain a clear picture of the widespread changes to the Malagasy flora and fauna and how these changes occurred, and yet will satisfy the scientific community because it provides a comprehensive set of references that can be used as a guide to further in-depth research.”

Clive Nuttman, University of Cambridge | Conservation Biology

Extinct Madagascar invites us to explore that world and to probe the circumstances surrounding its demise. Understanding Madagascar’s recent past is critically important because many of its remaining endemic vertebrates are highly endangered and could face a similar fate. The authors are two of the top scholars in this field, whose wealth of knowledge about extinct Madagascar is delightfully displayed in this book. . . . Anyone interested in Madagascar’s recent past must read Goodman and Jungers’s book.”

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology

“Goodman and Jungers’s book is a comprehensive work, bringing to a general audience an overview of ecological change and animal extinction on Madagascar in the Holocene. While not a technical summary, it cites close to four hundred scientific papers which can lead the interested reader further on his quest for information. Especially interesting is also the first part of the book, which gives a thorough general introduction to Madagascar starting with the breaking up of the supercontinent Gondwana some 165 million years ago. Several aspects are discussed: geography, geology, vegetation types, etc., all in an easy-to-read language and documented with well-chosen pictures. I highly recommend this authoritative and thoroughly enjoyable book!”

Petra De Block, Botanic Garden Meise, Belgium | Biological Conservation

Extinct Madagascar is original; there is no other like it. It is data-rich, fabulously illustrated, and has just enough humor to make it fun to read as well as intellectually stimulating. It is not a review of the anatomy or taxonomy of the various taxa, yet it presents sufficient amounts of detail in this regard to make visualization possible. The book also provides a very nice synthesis of cultural, genetic, and paleontological evidence for human arrival—I think the best out there.”

Laurie Godfrey | University of Massachusetts Amherst

“The extinction (and its causes) of the many subfossil organisms described in Extinct Madagascar is one of biodiversity science’s great unsolved mysteries. Goodman and Jungers summarize and present a monumental amount of information pertaining to these species, combining storytelling (descriptive accounts of the scientists involved, of various events and adventures) and marvelous plates with exquisite details of the subfossils and associated metadata to illustrate both the landscape and the organisms of the Holocene epoch in Madagascar. Their literary approach as well as the data reviewed and assembled make for a wonderful addition to the literature. Extinct Madagascar will have broad appeal across disciplines and will be a priceless book for graduate seminar work. I can’t wait.”

Anne Yoder | Duke University

“An authoritative and fascinating exploration of one of Nature’s greatest evolutionary experiments.”

Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History | author of "Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins"

Table of Contents



PART 1: Madagascar in Perspective: Past and Present



            Aspects of Format

            The Artist

Geological Time, Dates, and Radiocarbon Dating

            What Is a Subfossil?

            The Types of Subfossil Sites

An Overview of the Origins, Geology, Animal Colonization, and Modern Habitats of Madagascar

            Madagascar in Deep Time—Isolation and Origin of Its Plants and Animals

            History of Animal Colonization



            Vegetational Patterns

                        Humid Forest

                        Dry Deciduous Forest

                        Spiny Bush

                        Savanna and Grassland Formations

A Brief History of Climatic Change on Madagascar since the Late Pleistocene

History of Human Colonization of Madagascar

            Considerations of Language and Different Types of Introductions

            The Human Genetic Evidence           

            Evidence of Pre-Iron Age Colonization of Madagascar

            The Archaeological Record of Occupation and Settlement

            Paleontological and Paleoecological Evidence


Human Interactions with Now-Extinct Land Vertebrates




                        Elephant Birds




Hypotheses on What Caused the Extinctions during the Holocene

Extinction, Conservation, and the Future

PART 2: Case Studies

Geographical Plates

Plate 1: Cap Sainte Marie—the Ecology of Elephant Birds and Their Interface with Humans

Plate 2: Andrahomana I—the Ecology of Extreme Southeastern Madagascar and a Barometer of Change

Plate 3: Andrahomana II—Evidence of a Holocene Tsunami in the Southern Indian Ocean and Predator-Prey Relations

Plate 4: Tsimanampetsotsa—Rapid Ecological Shifts in the Face of Natural Climate Change

Plate 5: Taolambiby—Hypotheses Associated with Animal Extinction and Hunting by Humans: Physical Evidence and Interpretation

Plate 6: Ankilitelo—a Deep Pit Cave and Inferences on Recent Ecological and Faunal Change

Plate 7: Ampoza I—Reconstruction of the Ecology and Fauna in a Formerly Permanent Riverine Habitat in the Southwest

Plate 8: Ampoza II—Ecological Change in a Forest Community and Connecting Humid Forest Corridors to the Eastern Portion of the Island

Plate 9: Belo sur Mer—a Window into Different Hypotheses Associated with Environmental Change: Natural versus Human-Induced

Plate 10: Mananjary—the Former Estuary System of Eastern Lowland Madagascar and Some of Its Faunal Elements

Plate 11: Antsirabe Region—Ecology of Highland Marsh and Forest Habitats as a Measure of Change through Time

Plate 12: Ampasambazimba—Reconstruction of a Montane Woodland Habitat that No Longer Occurs on the Island

Plate 13: Anjohibe I—Secrets of the Past Disclosed by Careful Study of Subfossil Bone and Pollen in a Cave

Plate 14: Anjohibe II—Inferences Based on Cave Remains and Aspects of the Organisms Living in the Adjacent Ecosystem

Plate 15: Anjajavy—a Trapdoor Cave, Ecology of an Extinct Lemur, and Untold Extinct and Extant Biodiversity

Plate 16: Ankarana I—Ecological Change of a Forest Community, a View from the Ground Up

Plate 17: Ankarana II—Ecological Change of a Forest Community, a Bird’s-Eye View from the Forest Canopy

Plate 18: Ankarana III—Tragedy and How the Bone Remains of an Extinct Lemur Can Help Piece Together How It Lived and the Former Local Forest Ecology

Species Plates

Plate 19: Cryptoprocta spelea—an Extinct Mega-Predator and Aspects of How It May Have Lived and Hunted

Plate 20: Stephanoaetus mahery—a Presumed Primate Specialist and Its Role in the Evolution of Behavioral Aspects of Living and Extinct Lemurs


Index to Malagasy Place-Names

Index to Scientific Names


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