We started a series of online and offline workshops recently to equip our volunteers in the communications committee and other stakeholders with the writing skills needed for writing for publicity, newsletters, blogs, etc. These workshops also cover writing techniques to improve our domain knowledge for sustainability issues.
In this online workshop, we invited Professor Bill Laurance, a renowned scholar in research on tropical forest conservation across the world to share some lessons on how Asian rainforests have been impacted by humans and how research is useful for conservation.
Asian rainforests are the most vulnerable to anthropogenic impacts compared to rainforests in other regions of the world. They are already limited in size, and is compounded by the higher rates of deforestation. Many species in Tropical Asia, especially vertebrates, are only found in our region, which makes them more vulnerable to threats. More species are becoming more imperilled in Southeast Asia, so, if you want to work with endangered species, Southeast Asia is the place to be in!
From this situation, we see that we need to conserve forests that have been disturbed by logging. Firstly, virgin and undisturbed forests in Asia are like snake legs and hen’s teeth, so we have little choice in that matter. Most importantly, logged forests retain conservation value as they can recover biodiversity and ecosystem services if we give them the chance, given that they retain their basic structures. We can give them a chance to bounce back if we can protect them, such as in concessions where logging is regulated or leaving more tracts of forest as protected areas.
Protected areas should not be treated as accessible ground for hunting for everyone. “Empty forests” has become a phenomenon in some parts of Southeast Asia – where hunting pressures are so great, resulting in forests lacking any large animals. Such decimation tends to impair important ecological processes, like the seed dispersal.”
It has become common to apply models from island bio-geography on protected areas. We assume that protected areas are islands of wilderness which are surrounded by a matrix of urban areas. Unlike real islands on an ocean, what happens outside the protected area does affect the protected area itself. Outside pressures and impacts can leak into protected areas, so protected areas are not impervious to them. Studies done on specific protected areas (like Gunung Palung Nature Park) have documented the negative effects of external pressures on them.
According to Professor Laurance, roads are also bad for tropical forests for they pose a host of negative outcomes towards our forests, and such impact is not trivial for they can be large in scale and affect surrounding areas far and wide. Most large animals avoid such areas, which may cause their populations to decrease. More roads also means that it is more prone to disturbances, such as those caused by fire and resource exploitation, which adds to negative impacts on tropical forests.
Ensuring connectivity between forest fragments is important for some animals, as seen in in the situation where under-storey birds cannot move between forest fragments on their own. Animals also need to move from fragment to fragment, as resources shift in abundance over space and time. If forest fragments are isolated without connectivity, animals within them may run out of important resources, making them extinct. While small forest fragments lose biodiversity over time, well-connected forest fragments ameliorate by allowing animals to move between fragments, enabling them to repopulate each fragment.
Why is research important? Researchers document the factors that enables or hurts our forests by providing evidence for scientifically informed conservation action, Additionally, the very presence of researchers deters poachers. Furthermore, researchers can and do play an active role on the ground by being effective advocates for the forests where they study. They can also train and motivate both staff and stakeholders who are working on the ground locally, and lead projects in order to ensure the conservation of their research subjects.
We are grateful to Prof Bill for taking the time off his busy schedule to speak to us on such important concepts in tropical forest conservation. If you want to find out more about what we do and how to join our team, please go to our website for more information!
Written by: Sia Sin Wei