OuTrop’s Managing Director, Dr Mark Harrison, considers some recent publications and developments regarding forest and biodiversity conservation in Borneo, which highlight the critical importance of ongoing field conservation efforts in the region.
Borneo is recognised as a global biodiversity hotspot that is home to a huge myriad of plant and animal species, many of which are globally rare. This includes iconic species, such as the Bornean orangutan and southern Bornean gibbon, both of which have their largest populations in the Sabangau Forest where OuTrop works.
|Bornean orangutan in the Sabangau Forest|
Despite this, Borneo’s forests and wildlife remain gravely threatened, as a result of agricultural conversion, drainage, fire, logging, mining, hunting and other threats. Two recent studies have illustrated the seriousness of these threats amidst the potential impacts of climate change. Although initially startling, these findings do highlight the hope that still remains for conservation in Borneo.
In a paper published in Current Biology, Dr Matthew Struebig from the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) and colleagues model the combined impacts of land-use and climate change on Borneo’s mammals. This work – which was co-authored by OuTrop Directors Simon Husson, Susan Cheyne and myself – indicates that, as a result of these threats, nearly half of Borneo’s mammals could see suitable habitats shrink by a third or more in the coming decades. Lowland forests are particularly vulnerable.
However, according to Dr Struebig “about 28,000 km sq, or 4% of the island, would be needed outside of existing protected areas and reserves to safeguard many mammal species against threats from deforestation and climate change.”
These threats and predicted oil palm expansion also affect Borneo’s orangutans, for which potential impacts were modelled in a second paper by Dr Struebig and collaborators in Global Change Biology. Similar analyses were used to identify potential conservation refuges that are relatively safe from the effects of climate change and deforestation, and unsuitable for oil palm cultivation. In doing so, they demonstrate that continued efforts to halt deforestation could mediate some orangutan habitat loss. This is particularly important in Borneo’s peat swamps, which are home to large number of orangutans and are vital for climate change mitigation. Focusing conservation actions on these remote areas now would help to minimise orangutan losses in the future.
|Deforested peat swamp forest in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Photo by Suzanne Turnock/OuTrop|
Two other reports raise additional concern. First, the Indonesian Ministry of the Environment and Forestry plans to revise law no. 71/2014 to potentially relax the regulation on minimum water levels on plantations in peat (read more here and here). While benefiting plantations in the short term, this would lead to peat decomposition and subsidence in the longer term, leading to elevated carbon emissions and a heightened risk of flooding .
Meanwhile, another report reveals that the current moratorium on issuance of new forest concession permits on primary forests and peatlands is insufficient if Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of 26-41% are to be met, indicating stronger policies are needed.
Combined, these findings and policy developments highlight the threats faced by Indonesia’s peat-swamp forests, and the critical need for stronger policies and local on-the-ground conservation efforts to counter these threats. This is important both for species conservation and limiting global climate change, which in turn will reduce the risk of climate-driven negative impacts on forests and biodiversity in Borneo.
|A thriving peat swamp forest in Borneo. Photo by Andrew Walmsley/OuTrop|