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Island hot spot

Madagascar, an island nation in the Indian Ocean that is home to thousands of species found nowhere else on Earth, is captured in its entirety from space. The island is believed to have separated from the rest of Africa some 150 million years ago as the supercontinent Gondwana split apart. The resulting isolation has made Madagascar a biodiversity hot spot where unique species have flourished.

This image, taken by the European Space Agency's polar-orbiting Envisat last week, shows the diversity of the Madagascan landscape as well. The island's east coast boasts rain forests, the west is home to deciduous forests, and thickets known as "spiny deserts" lie to the south.

A 2003 satellite photograph from NASA highlighted the threat to these eco-regions from agricultural deforestation, which endangers the island's many endemic lemurs and other plant and animal species. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that the loss of Madagascan forest harms global biodiversity more than an equivalent loss "virtually anywhere else on Earth."

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