Blog for 2010-06-03

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Anasuya Chakrabarty

Lambir National Park

This was the first eventful day in the lap of the Bornean rainforests. It started with lectures and lots of activities around the forest. We had lecture by Dr. Cam Webb at 8 in the morning. He briefed us about the course curriculum and the things we should follow during our trip. He explained how we should proceed and observe and then do three projects at Lambir, Maliau Basin and at the Gaya Islands. It was really reflective and we got a definite idea of working here.

We had a safety briefing by Kamal, the in charge of the National park. This was followed by a lecture by Cam. It was an introduction to the Lambir national Park. The park has an area of 7000 hectares with around 1175 tree species, with the majority belonging to the family Dipterocarpaceae. We got a clear picture of the biodiversity of the national park and the possible threats. The dipterocarps are the timber yielding plants which are greatly logged off. The basal area for dipterocarps is about 6.9%. The animal diversity is quite high in Lambir, there are about 61 sp of vertebrates and 237 sp of birds. The ant diversity is also quite high and 361 sp of ants are found over here. After the lecture the entire group was subdivided into 4 subgroups each headed by the faculties. One was headed by Cam, second one by Rod, and the other two by Frank and Chuck Davis. My group was with Cam. We started with looking at the plants and it began with the Macaranga sp. These are trees with large lobed simple leaves which are alternate with large stipules. The stipules harbor ants of the species Crematogaster in them. The ants protect the plants from the herbivores and in turn they get shelter from them. Most of the Macaranga species have ant associations in the stipules. We spotted one plant in which the ants do not live in the stipules but inside the stem. Small black holes can be seen on the stems which are entry points of the ants.

We also got to see some primary fruits in which the flesh is tightly attached to the seeds and cannot be separated easily. They may be eaten by hornbills and larger birds, which cthrow away the seeds after getting the flesh off them. We have seen some very interesting kind of plants of the family Pandanaceae, which have stilt root kind of roots and sub root system. Once the sub roots are tightly attached to the soil the main root loosens its support and may eventually break off. These are especially some very thin palms but have a very strong grip of soil. We have also spotted plants of the family Anacardiaceae, which produce some black resins to which people may be hypersensitive to. The poison ivy and mango also belong to this family of plants. We have also seen a camphor plant whose leaves when crushed really smell like camphor! After hiking a bit and learning a lot from Cam, we had a fancy lunch inside the forest on the logs! It was really great and after that Cam left us for further hiking. We hiked a lot and did up and down for more than two hours. We finally reached to the Nubang waterfalls. It waterfall was a great scene, though a orange horned spider that we spotted on a tree near the waterfall seemed to be more exciting! We again climbed up and then hiked a lot in the forest back to the park head quarters. The hiking was really fun and exciting, we all got to see so much of diverse plants and animals with different kind of adaptations which have interesting evolutionary significance.

After coming back we had a discussion session on the questions raised by all of us. We had to write one of the most interesting questions that came to our mind on a piece of paper and the faculties then picked some of them and read out. We really had a nice session through which we get to learn about what type of questions one can pose and what may be the possible ways to approach those. Several interesting questions were raised ranging from the evolution of pitcher plants to the cause of diversity of the lepidopterans. We learnt a very important thing that is to be precise and logical while asking a question. We also should look at the time window of study and then pick up some questions. The evolutionary questions about the events that have happened millions of years ago can be answered by building small model systems, the computer simulations and the construction of phylogenetic trees are also important in this aspect.

We had an early dinner today which was really delicious. Dinner was followed by a lecture by Cam from 7:30 pm. The lecture was on the biodiversity of Borneo, the past, the present and the future. He explained the theories that may explain the high biodiversity of Borneo. It is the stability of the climate a and the variation between species that adds up to the biodiversity. Rainforest refuges were found in Borneo that states that this place have been a rainforest for a long period of time. The movement of the land plates also added to the biodiversity of this region, the island of Borneo had been in a stable position for a long time. Even during the Pliestocene glacial cycles the island was intact. In the rainforests of Borneo there is a great substrate variation. The rock types are different, though sedimentary rocks are predominant; the elevation is different and even the landforms. There are peats that are called peat swamps created due to landslides which are a great carbon source in the rainforests. The animal diversity is also dependant on the diversity of plants that adds up to the huge animal diversity of Borneo.

There is a huge logging of timber in Boneo and there is a loss of 1.2 M Ha loss of forest land per year. And in there is a huge plantation of oil palms taking place which results in the loss of the forest, the timber yielding plants and as a result the animals concerned with them. Only 7% of land in Borneo is under the National Parks, forest restoration is required. The timber yielding plants like the dipterocarps may be cleared for their woods , but time should be given to the saplings to grow into mature plants. So logging must be restricted to certain time periods. For this to happen the oil palm plantation must be stopped or otherwise the timber yielders are going to lose out in the race. We got an idea of where the future of this huge biodiversity of Borneo lies in. That was a great lecture by Cam, a great end to a great day of work and experience.