Madagascar's tapia trees are the habitat and food for the Borocera silkworm, whose cocoons are used to make this silk. Borocera silkworms are a wild species of silkworm, meaning they can only live wild in the forest and cannot be cultivated like traditional silkworms, aka Mulberry/Chinese silk. Being a "wild" species has helped provide a financial incentive for locals to protect tapia forests. If locals can make money off sustainable cocoon harvesting, then they have a financial reason to protect these forests. This real-life incentive for conservation is especially important in Madagascar, as it is home to numerous one-of-a-kind flora and fauna, while at the same time is plagued with human-caused deforestation.
Deforestation, in particular burning the hillsides, continues to be an issue for the silk weavers. Cow farmers burn whole hillsides, killing silkworms and tapia trees, to clear the land for growing baby grass for their cows. (The land is owned by the government and no one has clear ownership.) The cows rip up the baby grass by the roots, so there's nothing holding the land in place. Then after the first rain, erosion occurs and the rich top soil washes away. This is why Madagascar is called the "bleeding island" (b/c from an aerial view, you can see the red clay leaching into the ocean). Although the Tapia trees are fairly fire resistant, the fires kill the silkworms as well as some of the trees. We hope to deter hillside fires through these on-going sustainable financial incentives, but more work is needed in this area.