Volunteer News What's happening Wednesday

What’s Happening Wednesday #4 ; OuTrop’s reforestation trials – by popular demand…

Over the last three months we have been busy with our latest round of reforestation trials – read more about them here or in our December Newsletter. Many of the people involved (see below) have been asking what has become of their hard work, and I thought I’d give you an update on our progress so far.

The preparation, transport and planting of seedlings was hard work, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of our last group of volunteers (Paul, Bronwyn, Morena, Seb, Hanna, Brooke and Erik), headed up by our nursery coordinator Udin and Cassie, our Volunteer Coordinator. These people have been asking what has become of their hard work- so here’s an update on our progress…

A transect – now flooded and much more tricky to work with! 

Since completing the planting at the end of October, we have been monitoring the seedlings each week in order to see how they have survived. The volunteers may remember hearing the results of our first monitoring session, in which I had to break the news that a number of the seedlings looked “a bit poorly”. This is an unfortunate consequence of our experimental design, for which we are planting a range of different species in a range of hostile environmental conditions. We want to work out which species survive best in different conditions, and also to understand which factors cause greatest mortality. With this information, we hope to improve our understanding of each species and their favoured growing conditions, so that we can develop the most effective reforestation strategy for this habitat. However, unfortunately this means that we’re going to lose a few along the way, but I think we can all be rest assured that they’ll have an nicer life in seedling heaven.
Well since the first monitoring session and the poorly seedlings I’ve been pleased to see that a lot have recovered – and many have even begun to sprout new leaves. Of all the difficult environmental conditions that these seedlings will face, it seems that planting is one of the most stressful. This is understandable, as they have been taken from the comfort of the nursery, bounced around on someone’s back for a 1km trek through the forest, been dumped into the ground, and had to get used to their new surroundings in the big bad world. However, Udin has tried to make sure it’s not too stressful a step for them, and has made sure they’re well covered with peat (‘tucking them in at night’), propping them up with sticks, and whispering encouraging words.

A Jinjit seedling shows new leaves
even though submerged! 

So then, the numbers. As of the 18th December 2012, we have ‘lost’ 143 of the seedlings out of the 1303 that we planted, which comes to about 11%. Most of these are Jelutong and Jinjit, which we always knew would be the weakest species. However, most of the formerly poorly seedlings have recovered well, and overall 70% of all seedlings are considered to be in perfect health. The remaining 20% are still showing some signs of poor condition, namely leaf-burn, leaf-loss or broken stems. One of the most surprising findings of our monitoring has been the damage caused by wild pigs. We had previously considered this habitat to be devoid of any large animals, however we’ve regularly come across pig-tracks on our planting transects. Although they do not eat the seedlings, the clumsy brutes have broken a number of the stems as they crash about in our research area. Nonetheless, this is an interesting finding of our research and any future planting trials will have to consider methods to protect the seedlings from pigs, possibly by changing the transect design.

A flooded transect where the species with differing leaves
can be seen. 

Of the remaining seedlings, the most successful so far is Perupuk, of which 96% of seedlings are in good health. The next best species are Bintan (80%), Tumih (78%), Balangeran (73%) and Geronggang (68%). At the tail are Jelutong (61%) and Jinjit (51%), although to have so many in good health (and growing new leaves) was much more than we expected. At present there does not seem to be a great difference in health according to habitat (shrubs, sedge, bare ground) or distance from the forest edge, and the survival rates are fairly similar throughout the study area. This is interesting, and may help to rule out some of the mortality factors (e.g. weather, soil quality) that we have been considering.

However, the landscape is about the change once again as the wet season rolls in. We’ve had a lot of rain in November and December, and the river has spread into it’s huge flood plain. Most seedlings are now underwater, and will remain like this for at least six months until the dry season returns. This will be another challenging time for them, and we’re likely to lose some more. Udin now begins a period of monthly monitoring which will involve checking the seedlings underwater. We’ll see how they adapt to these flooded conditions. Let’s all cross our fingers…
Nick Marchant Senior Scientist / Project Manager
—————————-Want to join the team and contribute the research ? Volunteer! We have volunteers every year! Help support OuTrop with no cost to you …and buy some rice for lunch in the forest! Make this link your home page!