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Borneo biodiversity blog

September 2012
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There are several ways to sample insects and other invertebrates and the Quantitative Inventory (QI) team are using six of them! The QI team is visiting three different areas of lowland tropical rainforest during this visit to Sabah and we will be sampling in Danum Valley Conservation Area, the SAFE project area and in Maliau Basin Conservation Area.

 

Both Danum and Maliau are old growth (primary) forest reserves and are good examples of lowland tropical forest. We will be able to compare the invertebrates we find in these two reserves and discover how many species they have in common and how many are unique to one reserve or the other.

 

Bridge into the forestA river in the forest

(Click images to see them full sized)

 

By doing this we will be able to tell how many reserves are necessary to conserve all of the diversity found in tropical rainforests. If the reserves have exactly the same species then only one is necessary. But if they have completely different species then two reserves are necessary to retain all of the diversity. Obviously, this is only true for the species we are sampling and this may not be the case for a wide range of other species, e.g. birds, plants, reptiles and so on.

 

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The SAFE project is rather different. This is an area of forest that has already been logged. Much of the forest here is due to be cut down to make way for oil palm plantations. However, some fragments of the forest will be left and this will allow scientists to study the impact that fragmentation has on forest areas. We will be sampling in the areas that will be left behind once the logging takes place later this year; we hope to come back in 5 years and repeat our sampling to find out what has happened to the species in these forests during that period.

 

In each of these sites we will be sampling in eight, one hectare plots. In each plot we use six methods to sample insects. Three of our methods are done along a 100 m transect through the middle of the plot. Every 7 m we dig a hole and take out any invertebrates we find in there. Termites, beetle larvae and ants are generally what we find in soil.

 

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We also sieve a square metre of litter every 7 m and hang the resulting sieved litter in a Winkler bag. This contraption dries out the litter and, as it does so, the invertebrates fall out of it and collect in a pot below. We have 75 of these Winkler bags hanging up at Danum! In litter, ants and beetles are the most abundant insects.

 

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Along 50 m of the transect we also sample dead wood. Any dead wood that the transect crosses, we break open and remove any invertebrates we find. Again termites and ants are the most common, but also centipedes and scorpions have been found so far.

 

The other three methods are trapping methods. The first are pitfall traps. These consist of plastic pint glasses buried in the ground so that the opening is flush with the soil surface. Insects run along the ground and fall into the pit. We then come along three days later, empty them out to see what we find. They have been full of ants and cockroaches so far.

 

 

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We also have two types of Malaise traps. One type is put up at ground level and the other is pulled up in to the lower part of the trees. Both of these traps work by having a barrier that insects fly into. The insects then fly upwards into a funnel and eventually into a pot at the top. These traps are excellent at collecting flies and parasitic wasps (Hymenoptera), but also collect beetles.

 

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Using these methods we collect a lot of material. This material will eventually make it back to the Museum in London so that we can begin to sort and identify it.

 

Dan Carpenter

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Who is in Borneo and why?

Posted by Dan Carpenter Sep 18, 2012

Danum Valley Conservation Area in Sabah, BorneoThere are three different teams of scientists from across the Life Sciences department of the Museum who have travelled to work in Sabah on our current trip to Borneo. The first team is collecting parasitic wasps (Hymenoptera) and beetles (Coleoptera). The second is sampling freshwater invertebrates. The third (known as the Quantitative Inventory - i.e. QI - team), of which I am a member, is sampling soil and leaf litter invertebrates and lichens.

 

The teams are visiting a number of different areas in Sabah. We will spend the first week in Danum Valley Conservation Area in the east of Sabah. Teams will also visit Maliau Basin Conservation Area, the SAFE project area, the area around Sandakan and the freshwater team will also be visiting ponds and lakes near to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital.

 

The total length of the trip is 6 weeks, but only the QI team will be in Sabah for the entire period.

 

This is an extraordinary opportunity to document the diversity of tropical rainforests and tropical freshwaters.  We will almost certainly discover new species and in some cases as much as 50% of or samples will be species new to science.

 

In later posts I will explain a bit more about what the QI team is doing, the techniques we are using and the sorts of invertebrates we are collecting. So come back soon to find out more.

 

Dan Carpenter

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On Saturday 15 September, Andy Polaszek and Paul Eggleton were among the scientists asked to present their Borneo-based research to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their South-East Asian tour. Andy and Paul were able to explain to the Royal couple the aims of the Museum project, which clearly resonated with them. They were particularly interested in the educational and public outreach of the project, and it was satisfying to tell them about the different activities we have that link back to schools and the public in the UK with the Nature Live team.

 

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William-and-Andy-shaking-hands.jpgAndy Polaszek (check shirt) and Paul Eggleton (hidden) presents the research being performed in Borneo to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
(Click images to see them full size)

 

As well as Andy and Paul representing the Museum, other organisations taking part were Raleigh International, Oxford University, Earthwatch, Imperial College and the local Sabah Foundation, Yayasan Sabah. The Royal visit was largely facilitated and organised by Danum Valley’s Senior Scientist Dr Glen Reynolds.

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First days in Borneo

Posted by Dan Carpenter Sep 12, 2012

We made it! It's taken a lot of planning but we finally made it. We have arrived in Danum Valley Conservation Area in Sabah, Malaysia after a 17 hour flight, a couple of days in Kota Kinabalu (KK - see it on Google maps) and another flight and a long bus ride, we made it to Danum Valley. It is good to finally be so close to (and almost in) the forest to get started on our field work.

 

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The team with all of the equipment, 23 bags in all (click images to see them full size)

 

We brought a lot of equipment with us but we also had to stock up on a few bits in KK, like string, a spade and machetes(!) - all essential tools that we will need to do our field work. We also found time to relax and discuss our plans for the coming weeks.

 

KKimage1.jpgRelaxing in Kota Kinabalu and discussing the field work we're due to perform

 

We will be staying at Danum a little less than two weeks, until 24 September. While we are here we have an awful lot of sampling to do and I will be explaining all about the different methods we are using to sample insects as the days go on, but here's a sneak preview of one of them:

 

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Our Winkler bags hanging up outside the labs

 

The Danum Valley field centre is very nice indeed. The food is excellent, banana fritters being my favourtie so far. There are also lots of other scientists here from all over the world doing field work so there is a real buzz in the dining hall at meal times. There are also lots of people here for the special visitors that arrived here on Saturday, 15 September (more on that in our next blog post)!

 

bridgeintoforest.jpgThe bridge into the forest
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Welcome to Borneo 2012

Posted by Andrew Polaszek Sep 9, 2012

Borneo-rainforest-700x463.jpgOver the course of late September and October many of the Museum's researchers will be in Borneo to study the flora and fauna on the island. The Museum has a history of leading several successful Borneo-based science projects and this time, we will be documenting the effort in this blog.

 

As the 3rd largest island in the world, Borneo is well-known as a centre of extreme faunistic and floristic diversity, and endemism (i.e. uniqueness to a defined location, such as an island). It is certain that the majority of that diversity and endemism remains to be discovered and documented, in particular the "microfauna", especially in the soils, the forest canopy and freshwater systems. Vast areas of the island are currently being irreversibly altered due mainly to timber extraction and cultivation of oil palm, these two activities often being connected.

 

A team of 15 biologists from the Museum are traveling to Sabah, Malaysian North Borneo, in September and October this year, to carry out field work in this major biodiversity hotspot. We will be studying and collecting insects, other invertebrates and plant samples using a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods. The qualitative sampling is designed to complement an ongoing 10-year study of soil biodiversity in the New Forest in England, and the Borneo work will provide valuable comparative data on the distribution and abundance of key organisms in tropical and temperate forest systems. In Sabah we will be sampling in the Danum Valley and Maliau Basin, as well as working with the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) project which is examining the effects of deforestation, extraction and palm oil (and other) cultivation on biodiversity.

 

Taxa collected will be a combination of relatively well-known species that can be identified, and less well-known groups that will require a combined morphology/barcoding/molecular probe approach to characterise. The data resulting will support all Museum quantitative inventory projects, in particular the aforementioned New Forest QI project, enabling direct comparison of landscape level biodiversity between tropical and temperate areas.

 

This trip is multidisciplinary, involving researchers from across the Museum’s Life Sciences departments and local collaborators, particularly from the University of Malaysia Sabah (UMS) in Kota Kinabalu. We are especially concentrating on public engagement, with the Museum’s Nature Live team involved in several live link-up events, including ones to UK schools in the Museum’s Attenborough Studio. In particular, Dan Carpenter’s team will be accompanied by members of Nature Live in October for broadcasts back to the Museum from the field.

 

We hope you enjoy following our trip to Borneo and you can also keep in touch with the Nature Live coverage (and read about their previous trips to the Bahamas and Costa Rica) in the Field work with Nature Live blog.

 

Andy Polaszek and Dan Carpenter