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4th Scientific Committee Meeting and Bukit Teraja Expedition

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4th Scientific Committee Meeting and Bukit Teraja Expedition

iCUBE Steers Biodiversity Research, Hosts Expedition to Bukit Teraja

The International Consortium of Universities for the Study of Biodiversity and the Environment (iCUBE) held its 4th Scientific Committee Workshop to identify ways members can further improve research and collaboration among its researchers.

During the 4th Scientific Committee Workshop held in Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD), participants pitched their respective universities’ research strengths and together identified three areas of common interest for research. These included continuing to conduct research into biodiversity and environmental research towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), conducting ecosystem and biodiversity inventory as well as study freshwater and landscape ecology. There was a proposal for a potential iCUBE research project on “Influence of Development on Biodiversity and Sustainability” with Brunei Darussalam as the “best case scenario” because there has not been much pressure being put on Brunei’s forest currently. Members agreed to come up with a project that would not only be useful to Brunei Darussalam but also that would be of interest to iCUBE universities and aligned withthe mentioned SDGs. Members would bring back results from the discussions to their respective universities and consider taking the necessary steps and provide input which can be realised into viable projects from the universities’ iCUBE experts. The workshop also saw the proposal for the “iCUBE Graduate Students Workshop” which aims to provide training to iCUBE graduate students in the latest technologies. A skill development workshop, it would utilise modern techniques in research which would be relevant for the students. It is then important to understand and determine the area of skills that students would be interested in, followed by determining the experts that can be brought to the workshop. Recently, iCUBE conducted the Bukit Teraja Expedition, giving researchers from memberinstitutions access to the diverse flora and fauna in the area. The 26 participants of the Bukit Teraja expedition included researchers and research assistants from UBD, National University of Singapore (NUS), Yale-NUS College, MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, Ehime University, Korea University and Palacky University. They mapped out the location, collected samples and observed the various species there. With the exception of Korea University, the researchers were divided into the botanical team and the fauna survey team prior to their departure to the location for the start of their three-day expedition. Field assistance and taxonomic identification were supported by the Brunei National Herbarium. UBD is responsible for setting up permanent 20m X 20m plots at selected locations in Brunei Darussalam and the mixed dipterocarp forest at Bukit Teraja was one of the selected locations for the project. It aims to estimate carbon stocks in forests by measuring the DBH of trees to determine biomass stocks as well as identifying the species of the trees. Data results of tree DBH and species richness and diversity will be compared with other forest types in Brunei Darussalam. A group from UBD aimed to collect important, rare, endemic and endangered plant three species (Burmannia) in Bukit Teraja with the purpose to increase the live plant collection for showcasing, research and educational purpose as well as for ex-situ conservation. During the expedition, they focused on the Zingiberaceae family of plants. Overall, a total of 34 specimens were collected belonging to 27 species under 9 different families with Zingiberaceae showing the highest number of species and individuals (i.e. 12 species and 17 individuals) followed by Orchidaceae with 4 species and 4 individuals; Primulaceae with 3 species and 3 individuals; Araceae and Arecaceae both with 2 species and 2 individuals; and finally, Asparagaceae, Hypoxidaceae, Menispermaceae and Schizaeaceae with 1 species each. As a well preserved site for lowland mixed dipterocarp, the habitat in Bukit Teraja is a key environment for many mycoheterotrophic plants. Martin Dancak from the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Palacky University, Olomouc, Czech Republic found eight species of mycoheterotrophic plants of six genera and four families. While all of them were previously known to occur in Brunei Darussalam, only three were known directly from the surveyed area, namely Aphyllorchis pallida, Lecanorchis multiflora andSciaphila densiflora. A single species is usually found at a locality but three species ((Burmannia championii, Epirixanthes elongata and Sciaphila densiflora) were found near a forest stream above Wang Kadir Waterfall, which provides a good potential for further investigation, especially during the wet season when more species can emerge. Representatives from the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS College conducted an Avian Species Survey, a preliminary report comparing the effectiveness of audio and visual input in species detection. Over the threeday survey period, 21 species were identified visually. Eleven species were identified from audio recordings. Only 2 species were both seen during the survey and independently identified during the analysis of the audio recordings. An additional 7 individual sightings and 6 unique vocalizations were detected but have not been identified. There were nearly twice as many visual identifications as aural identifications. There was very little overlap between visually and aurally identified species. Of the 30 species identified during this survey, only 2 were detected using both methods. While a strictly visual survey detected more species than a strictly aural survey, both methods were required to produce the most complete species list. Certain species were more easily identified visually, while others were more easily identified aurally. The expedition to Bukit Teraja is a follow up to one of the most impactful events by iCUBE, an expedition to Bukit Pagon in 2012. Brunei’s highest peak at a height of 1,850m, Bukit Pagon is located on the boundary between Brunei Darussalam and Limbang in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, and is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. It is also the location of a rare breed of rainforest, heath forest. Previously unstudied, this type of forest is believed to possess plants with medicinal qualities. The expedition marked a major milestone for ecological studies in Brunei by providing the first inventory of flora and fauna of this montane heath habitat. Established in January 2011 at UBD, iCUBE is a network of eight top-tiered universities aimed at promoting collaborative research and education on biodiversity, climate change and the environment. iCUBE member universities cooperate and draw on each others’ capabilities and respective expertise to further research initiatives, intellectual exchange opportunities for staff and students, and improve research and teaching capacities. iCUBE not only looks at biodiversity issues from a scientific point of view, but also from the social sciences point of view, promoting cross- and trans-disciplinary research

Participants of iCUBE’s Bukit Teraja expedition were given access to the diverse flora and fauna in the area.

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