The Mascarene Islands of Réunion, Mauritius,
and Rodrigues are situated in a line along a submerged ridge, the Mascarene
Plateau, located 640 to 800 km east of Madagascar in the western Indian
Ocean. These islands are unique in their isolationand posses many endemic species.
The majority of the fauna and flora found
in the Mascarenes is of Madagascan and East African origin. This would seem
intuitively obvious in spite of the fact that the dominant winds and currents
are easterly. Of the 95 plant genera where affinities are clear, 89 % of
them are likely to be of Madagascan or African origin and 11 % are presumably
from the east. The palms, which form such a diverse assemblage in Madagascar,
appear to be exclusively of African origin.
When these islands were first visited in
the 16th century, passing ships hunted the native fauna, causing
the extinction of the ground dwelling dodo and the related Rodrigues solitaire.
The ships also introduced European species such as rabbits and goats. Later,
people permanently settled these islands. The combination of hunting, species
introductions, deforestation and farming has dramatically changed the habitats
of these islands and caused the extinction of species on these islands.
Many of the surviving endemic Mascarene species are seriously threatened
with extinction. Serious conservation efforts have been
made by the Mauritius gouvernement and several organisations on the island.