Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management

Explore rainforests, mangroves, coral reefs, and the environmental challenges of Madagascar, isolated from neighboring land masses for more than 100 million years.

At a Glance




3 semesters French, Relevant previous coursework

Language of Study

Malagasy, French

Courses taught in



Jan 30 ‎– May 14

On Site Component

Jan 30 ‎– May 14

Program Countries


Program Base


Critical Global Issue of Study

Climate & Environment

Climate & Environment Icon


Why study biodiversity in Madagascar?

A biodiverse island evolving from a set of unique environmental circumstances, Madagascar is one of the world’s globally recognized “megadiverse” countries, with flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth. Explore environmental challenges, conservation, and development across an array of ecosystems including tropical rainforests, mangroves, and dry deciduous forests in multiple economic and cultural contexts. Discover a world apart, where the vast majority of wildlife is endemic only to the island, and witness the human side of natural resource management. Study alongside Malagasy university students, employing social and natural science field techniques in coral reef systems, national parks, and farming and fishing villages. Stay with local families, learn the Malagasy language, and enhance your French as you become immersed in francophone Africa. Visit the Millot cocoa plantation, recognized worldwide as one of the best cocoa producers in the world; see the unforgettable tsingy formations of Ankarana Special Reserve, known for its caves, underground rivers and Jurassic limestone; and the beautiful rainforest of Amber Mountain National Park.


  • Explore the luxuriant vegetation, fauna, and volcanic lakes of the Itasy region and Amber Mountain.
  • Observe the island’s rare and charismatic baobab, herpetofauna, and lemur species.
  • Trek the rainforest of Andasibe, and the ylang ylang and cocoa plantation in Nosy be and Ambanja.
  • Build your résumé and skills with an internship and Independent Study Project.


Previous college-level coursework in environmental studies, ecology, biology, or related fields. Three recent semesters of college-level French or equivalent, and the ability to follow coursework in French, as assessed by SIT.


Antananarivo (Tana)

Your semester is based in Antananarivo, where you will hear speakers from the University of Antananarivo and visit the Queens Palace (Rova), Tsimbazaza Botanical and Zoological Park  to begin your initiation into Malagasy biodiversity and cultures.

Central Highlands (Itasy Region)

The Itasy region has a high number of endemic freshwater fish. You will visit the Ampefy Lake, Lily Waterfall (Ampefy) and Analavory Geyser. You will also visit the Arivonimamo Silk Trail to see the Tapia forest, one the rare remaining forests in Madagascar’s central highlands. The Tapia tree houses the silk moth Borocera cajani, which produces wild silk.


The Andasibe habitat is home to a vast number of species, many of them rare and endangered. Among the 11 lemur species is the Indri, the largest of the lemurs. Visit the Amphibian Breeding Center, Mantadia National Park, and two community-based conservation reserves managed. Visit the Ambatovy mining company to see its efforts toward biodiversity preservation. Akanin’ny Nofy reserve is a picturesque location on the east coast of Madagascar where you can see the iconic Aye-aye lemur as well as the carnivorous Nepenthese plant.

Nosy Be

Your marine study will take place at Nosy be Hell Ville, followed by excursions to northern Madagascar to see the rich biodiversity of this part of this island. Visit the ylang ylang transformer on Nosy Be to see the production of ylang ylang essential oil; Ankarana National Park and Montagne d’Ambre National Park in Joffreville.

Please note that SIT will make every effort to maintain its programs as described. To respond to emergent situations, however, SIT may have to change or cancel programs.



Access virtual library guide.

Classes are conducted mainly in academic French, with university professors and experts in relevant fields teaching the Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management seminar.

The Environmental Research Methods and Ethics seminar, conducted mainly in English, focuses on research techniques and cross-cultural adjustment skills and is intended to prepare students for the Independent Study Project. Readings and classroom sessions for the Research Methods and Ethics course are supplemented by a short field research project undertaken in a rural village.

The program’s French language course builds students’ capacity through a focus on conversational French and aims to enhance their use of French in the context of the natural sciences. Coursework in Malagasy provides students with the foundational and essential tools required for daily use.

The following syllabi are representative of this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term. The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course information, including course codes, credits, overviews, and syllabi.

Key Topics

  • Marine and coastal ecosystems, conservation, and resource management
  • Malagasy biodiversity, evolutionary history, and extinction
  • Diversity of forest ecosystem types and land use dynamics
  • Environmental and social impacts of mining, cash crops, and tourism
  • Addressing issues pitting conservation against economic development
  • Ethnobotany and the interactions between culture and the environment

Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management Seminar

Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management Seminar – syllabus
(ENVI3000 / 3 credits)

This interdisciplinary course introduces students to a range of key policies and practices for the management of the unique and endemic natural resources in Madagascar. Using conceptual approaches drawn from environmental justice and political ecology, students explore diverse terrestrial and marine resources in a range of locales and consider the realities and challenges of developing effective and equitable natural resource management systems. Key themes through which these issues are explored during the course include livelihoods and stakeholder analyses, protected area and community based management systems, basic tools for understanding and monitoring natural resources, and cultural practices and their influence on natural resource management.


Malagasy – syllabus
Malagasy (French Version) – syllabus
(MALA1003 / 3 credits)

Emphasis on beginning speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field instruction. Formal instruction is augmented by language practice with homestay families.

French for Natural Sciences

French for Natural Sciences – syllabus
(FREN2003-2503 / 3 credits)

French for Natural Sciences – syllabus
(FREN3003-3503 / 3 credits)

Focusing on oral proficiency in the context of the natural sciences with a biodiversity and natural resource management concentration, language teaching is targeted toward the many activities in the thematic and research methods seminars in order to help students work more independently in the field. The objective is to facilitate students’ interactions with a range of professionals in the field working to manage resources while promoting development within the local cultural context. In support of these objectives, course content provides additional focus on fundamentals of spoken and written French to increase student capacity. Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students are placed in the appropriate level, with additional language practice in homestays and on field visits.

Environmental Research Methods and Ethics

Environmental Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ENVI3500 / 3 credits)

Conducted primarily in English, this is a course in social and natural sciences research methods. The focus is on learning how to collect, analyze, integrate, and report social and ecological data to critically understand and evaluate various environmental issues. The course serves as an introduction to the Independent Study Project and includes a focus on field study ethics and the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review Policy. Field studies may include designing a research project; writing a proposal; interviewing; surveys; and maintaining a field journal. Specific ecological field study methods may include habitat surveys; biotic sampling and analysis; fauna and flora identification; biodiversity monitoring; population censusing; and animal behavior.

Course Options

In addition to taking the above courses, students will also need to enroll in one of the following two courses:

Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits)

Conducted primarily in northern Madagascar or other appropriate locations. Sample topic areas: reforestation; coral reef conservation; medicinal plants in the marketplace; ecotourism; carbon sequestration and financing; land tenure reform and agricultural production; conservation assessments of endangered species; cash crop production and links to local livelihoods; sacred forests; community-based resource management; behavioral ecology of lemurs; sustainable land use techniques.

Sample ISP topic areas:

  • Community-based resource management
  • Conservation assessments of endangered species
  • Coral reef management and conservation
  • Cash crop production and links to local livelihoods
  • Medicinal plants in the marketplace
  • Ecotourism
  • Behavioral ecology of lemurs
  • Carbon sequestration and financing
  • Land tenure reform and agricultural production
  • Payments for ecosystem services
  • Sacred forests
  • Sustainable land use techniques
  • Social impacts of land use change from mining and agriculture

Browse this program’s Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.


Internship and Seminar
Internship and Seminar – syllabus
(ITRN3000 / 4 credits)

You will gain valuable work experience and enhance your professional skillset in an international work environment, drawing on the wide network of community organizations, activists, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and academics connected to the program.

Sample internships:

  • Supporting agroforestry efforts, monitoring the locally endemic wildlife, and promoting the area through communications at the Missouri Botanical Gardens in the Makirovana-Tsihomanaomby protected area
  • Conserving and breeding endemic Malagasy fish in Andapa with Guy tam Hyock from the APPA Association des Producteurs Privee des Alevins
  • Undertaking ecological monitoring and environmental education and developing interpretative materials at the Antanetiambo Nature Reserve with award winning conservationist Desire Rabary
  • Developing and monitoring sustainable natural resource use projects—including fuel efficient stoves, aquaculture and environmental education—with the Duke Lemur Center Sava Conservation Program
  • Monitoring populations of critically endangered lemurs and building local capacity in the Anjanaharibe Special Reserve with the Lemur Conservation Foundation
  • Supporting ecological restoration and monitoring in the Macolline Nature Reserve and community development and livelihoods activities in collaboration with CALA
  • Developing sustainability initiatives—including urban agriculture, recycling, youth climate and environmental outreach—through the Think Green Madagascar center in Hell Ville Nosy Be



Your home base will be with a host family in the capital city Antananarivo, often referred to as Tana, a beautiful city built on hills, with buzzing open-air markets, and distinct neighborhoods reflecting a mix of 19th century Malagasy and more recent European influences. Your family will introduce you to the warmth and generosity of Malagasy life. Here, you will learn from academics and experts in the field of biodiversity and conversation management in preparation for field studies and excursions to nature reserves and historic sites.

Village Stay

Stay in a rural village for more than a week in the Alaotra-Mangoro region of eastern Madagascar. Conditions will be basic, with limited electricity or running water. Learn from your host family about Bezanozano culture and the lifestyle of Malagasy farmers, including songs, dances, and food of the region. Study alongside Malagasy students during field courses in the Analamazaotra, VOI.MA and Mantadia forest around Andasibe. Biodiversity and natural resource management study combined with cultural exchange will make your stay in Andasibe unforgettable.

Other Accommodations

Other accommodations include campsites and small hotels.

Career Paths

Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:

  • Director of international programs and global health fellowships at Norfolk Academy, Norfolk, VA

  • Executive director of EduFood, Oxford, MS

  • National Science Foundation fellow and PhD candidate in Virginia Tech’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Blacksburg, VA

  • Assistant professor of environmental studies at Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT

  • Chief of party for USAID forest land tenure programs in Africa

Alumni are also working in climate change and sustainable development, renewable energy, sustainable living design, permaculture, business development and strategic growth, medicine, and law.

Faculty & Staff

Madagascar: Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management

Andolalao Rakotoarison, PhD
Academic Director

Discover the Possibilities

  • Cost & Scholarships

    SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.

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    Prepare for an accessible educational experience with SIT Study Abroad! In-country conditions and resources vary by site. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact for more information.

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