Blog for 2009-06-15

From BiodivBorneo09

Jump to: navigation, search
Bat watching in the great cave

Arguments, economics, and Niah Cave


We began our day with a big argument! Don't worry though, it wasn't a result of any animosity, it was a formal scientific argument. The goal was to present our independent research proposals to the whole group. This defense format is useful for two reasons: 1) presenting our ideas forced us to thoroughly organize our thoughts, and 2) offering constructive criticism to others allowed us to think critically about experiment design. So what can we expect from Biodiversity of Borneo students over the next week? Encountering fungi fanatics, carnivorous-plant collectors, liana counters, and water strider sling-shooters; glimpsing students who are transporting rotten bananas in the morning, interviewing ex-headhunters in the afternoon, and measuring geckos at all hours of the night. Students may return from data collection with leech bites, mysterious rashes, and/or heat rash. Let the field work begin!

After our lively argument, we got our first view of Bornean economics. During our bus ride to Niah cave, we passed kilometer after kilometer of oil palm plantations. Cam termed oil palms as "the future of Borneo" because each year, land conversion to palm oil production continues. This cash crop makes a lot of economic sense in the short term, but because forests must be cleared, it is a biodiversity disaster. It is also unlikely to be a renewable resource. By contrast, at Niah we saw two forms of renewable resource extraction that don't have such severe impacts upon biodiversity: guano and bird's nests. One gentleman walked by us who had harvested 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of bat guano from the caves. He was carrying it all on his back with the intention to sell it as fertilizer (impressive strength!). High bat densities in the cave mean that guano is a naturally occuring, abundant, and renewable resource. Inside the cave, we saw many wooden structures that allow people to collect abandoned bird nests. For centuries, people have harvested them to make bird's nest soup. But like any natural resource, guano and bird's nests can become non-renewable if pressures to collect increase.

Enough about economics though. Today marked our first non-human primate sighting! Several macaques leaped from limb to limb above us in the canopy as we walked to the cave. It was very exciting for many of us, but it wasn't mutual: the macaques seemed fairly uninterested in us. We also had the chance to see a few other forest formations with different assemblages of plants and animals. When we reached the mouth of the great cave, we understood where it got its name- the opening is 60 meters by 250 meters. What a great place to explore! We weren't the first animal with that thought: the cave has been inhabited by people dating back 3,500 years ago, and is currently home to 39 species of bats among other species. We were fortunate to be at the mouth of the cave as dusk fell, and we watched the bats emerge. As they began their night's hunt, we begun our journey back to Lambir National Park.