Borneo, an island in Asia known for its rich biodiversity, has for many years faced a diminishing forest. With agriculture clearance, primarily for palm oil, and timber extraction for international trade reducing habitat for species like rhinos and orangutans, ecosystems now face a growing threat: climate change.
In response to those challenges, efforts to make change and reverse the trends are underway, including starting at the most basic of levels. Conservationists need to understand what species of plants in the forests are at greatest risk of extinction, so the Indianapolis Zoo teamed up with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and researchers in Kutai National Park — home to one of the last intact forest canopies of East Kalimantan — including Dr. Anne Russon, to provide data for Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment Framework (CCVAF). That’s a technical way to say scientists could distinguish what problems were most likely to arise for an ecosystem over time and influence the actions being taken at a species level too.
Through the study the IUCN can now provide conservationists with guidance in three specific areas: 1) tree species that are at a high risk from climate change and species already at high risk of extinction; 2) geographic areas that contain high numbers of tree species that are vulnerable to climate change and other threats, and 3) tree species best suited for expected future climates, being the best candidates for successful long-term habitat restoration efforts for orangutan conservation.
Over three years, the study strengthened the network of experts working on tree conservation throughout the island and included assessment workshops and field investigations of the more than 1,200 unique species of plants found in Kutai National Park.
Two tree species were singled out for their resilience to fire — a native palm Borassodendron borneense and the hardwood tree Eusideroxylon zwageri, known locally as Bendang and Ulin. Researchers found 129 species being used by orangutans with seven of highest importance. The teams realized restoration projects shouldn’t just consider key orangutan food sources, but trees used for travel and nesting as well, such as the Ulin tree. On the other hand, species important for agriculture needed to be planted in inaccessible areas to avoid human-wildlife conflict.
Efforts in the park are being taken on by many groups, including local organizations, the government and mining companies that source seeds for reforestation.
Future collaborations and field work between scientists and local communities can use these study results to extend sustainable conservation even further.
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