The characteristic gullies of central Madagascar–lavakas–vary greatly in abundance over short distances, but existing understanding does not explain why some hillsides should have high concentrations of lavakas when nearby slopes have fewer. We present a GIS analysis of lavaka abundance in relation to bedrock geology and topography, covering two areas in the central highlands: the region near Ambatondrazaka and that around Tsaratanana. Both regions have similar average lavaka density (6 lavakas/km2 in Ambatondrazaka, and 5 lavakas/km2 in Tsaratanana, but local lavaka concentrations vary widely. Individual one-km2 squares can host up to 50 lavakas/km2 in Tsaratanana and up to 150 lavakas/km2 in Ambatondrazaka. We find no predictive relationship between bedrock type and lavaka abundance. There is, however, a relationship between lavakas and slope such that lavakas increase in abundance as slopes get steeper, up to an optimum steepness, beyond which they become less numerous. The optimum steepness for lavaka development is about 10 to 15° in Tsaratanana and 25 to 30° in Ambatondrazaka. Lavakas also seem to favour slopes where the gradient changes locally, with an optimum change in grade somewhere in the range 2 to 5°. Our results provide quantitative constraints on lavaka distribution that can be tested in other areas.

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