Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Camera Trapping to Inform Urban Development

Another research interest of mine is wildlife management in urban environments, particularly in Christchurch New Zealand. Christchurch is a very flat city with very little relief in topography, apart from the subtle landforms associated with its many waterways. Other New Zealand cities (e.g. Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin) are blessed with hilly, often steep landscapes, and in these landforms remnants of native forest have been preserved; protected from pre European fires, protected from land clearance for agriculture on account of their inaccessibility or poor productive potential, and saved from urban development on account of the unsuitability of the landforms.

However Christchurch has no such forest remnants aside from Riccarton Bush; a c.7.5 hectare kahikatea (Dacrycarpus dacrydioides) dominated forest in the heart of the city. Therefore the only practical areas where significant native forest restoration can be carried out in the city is along the main waterway corridors; the Avon, Heathcote, Styx and Otukaikino Rivers and their many tributaries. Unfortunately the Avon and Heathcote Rivers offer only limited opportunity for significant areas of native forest and riparian restoration on account of the density and proximity of adjacent residentia, commercial and light industrial land use development (although significant scope may now exist on the lower Avon River as a result of the devastation caused by the >9500 earthquakes and aftershocks experienced since September 2010 Canterbury Earthquake).

Significant forest restoration has been carried out since the late 1970’s on the Otukaikino River, centred on The Groynes Reserve, however it is the Styx/Puharakekenui River that is now most at risk from the encroachment of urban and residential development. Developers are now more than ever wanting to develop close to the Styx River, and while such developments can have some positive outcome for biodiversity, often the effects are adverse in nature, and result in loss of natural character, disturbance and expatriation of wildlife populations, loss of fine scale habitat features such as large woody debris and decay cavities, and most significantly the loss of potential to establish significant and viable wildlife habitat for both wetland and forest wildlife.

One problem planners are faced with when it comes to advocating for appropriate waterway setbacks is not knowing what wildlife species occur at particular sites, as often species are cryptic or nocturnal and are therefore not easily detected by conventional inventories. Camera trapping with the use of motion and/or heat signature sensing remotely deployed cameras provides an opportunity to complement the current body of knowledge of species occurring in the cities more natural waterway areas, and provides a tool to advocate for the protection of natural character and appropriate waterway setbacks (in which significant habitat could be established) where rare or uncommon species are found to occur.

The images shown here include all the photographs taken over the first seven-day/night camera trapping inventory at one site on the Styx River at the Styx Living Laboratory Precinct (608 Marshland Road, Christchurch). Species photographed here are all native, and include pukeko, NZ shovler and grey teal. Although the species range was limited to three species only, it is hoped with each additional site sampled, more species will be present including more elusive species such as marsh crake, Australasian bittern and potentially even native bats.

Following my return to Christchurch at the end of 2012 I plan to set up a more comprehensive camera trapping inventory. In the meantime, as new and interesting images are captured they will be uploaded to the blog.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Research Proposal: “High Conservation Value Forest and the Management of Biodiversity Values across Tropical Plantation Landscapes”

An immense richness of flora and fauna has made Borneo a centre of biodiversity in Southeast Asia (Hazebroek and Morshidi 2001; Inger 2007), with over 1000 species of terrestrial vertebrates (Stuebing 2005), and in excess of 2500 tree species in Sarawak alone (Hazebroek and Morshidi 2001). The recent interest in large scale estate crops like oil palm is resulting in the clearance of large tracts of rain forest (de Jong et al. 2003), and today plantation forestry is seen to be taking over much of the former naturally forested landscape of Borneo (Padoch and Peluso 2003), including the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. In terms of disturbance, the name Borneo itself now evokes a vision not just of luxurious forests, but also of a constantly changing landscape (Potter 2006).

In recent years, various classification systems (e.g. Jennings et al. 2003) have been developed for the identification and management of High Conservation Value Forest (HCVF); forest that is deemed so important for sustaining soils, water quality, cultural resources and biodiversity values that it is excluded from intensive exploitation and/or conversion to other land uses. While such classification systems may be useful in highlighting and protecting HCVF areas, it largely ignores the role of a well-managed matrix for the maintenance of these important values. As such, some resource managers have questioned the relevance of the HCVF concept in favour of a forest and/or land use regime that looks to protect and sustain the same values across the entire production landscape rather than solely within often isolated and consequently unviable forest fragments.

This thesis, prepared in fulfilment of the degree Masters of Applied Science, will therefore contrast and compare the range of methodologies employed in the East Malaysian States of Sarawak and Sabah, and possibly also extend to the Indonesian State of Kalimantan, and the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam for the identification and management of HCVF. It will discuss the key criticisms of the HCVF concept and recommend strategies that efficiently combine HCVF management with broad-scale landscape management, with a particular emphasis on biodiversity conservation.
The thesis will include an extensive literature review that includes peer-reviewed literature, industry publications, internal reports and management plans. Interviews and surveys of regional industry representatives, conservation practitioners and local academics will form an important component of the research. This approach is essential in determining the confidence of the industry in, and perceived efficacy of the HCVF approach for biodiversity management, and in doing so highlight any real or perceived shortcomings of the method. In short, the thesis will provide a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) analysis of the HCVF concept on the Island of Borneo; a land in a state of rapid transformation and associated biodiversity loss.

Through the course of my previous research interests on Borneo (e.g. see Shadbolt and Ragai 2010) I have fostered good working relationships with a number of plantation companies, industry bodies and government departments throughout the island. These include the Sarawak Timber Association (STA), Sarawak Planted Forests (SPF), Grand Perfect Sdn. Bhd. (GP), Asian Forestry Company (AFC), and Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD). I am confidant of continuing support from these organisations during this research programme, and of securing additional support from other organisations during by time on Borneo, including government departments, plantation companies, NGO’s, universities and other research institutions.

To date I have established and maintained a long running MOU with GP in Sarawak via the University of Canterbury, NZ School of Forestry, and am in the process of finalising a second MOU with AFC in Sabah through Lincoln University. Both these companies are tasked with the conversion of degraded secondary forest to large scale industrial timber plantations of 540,000 ha and 60, 000 ha respectively. Plantation establishment in Sarawak by GP is well under way with in excess of 240, 000 planted hectares, and with the first experimental harvesting having taken place in 2011. However planting in the AFC plantation near Kota Marudu only begun in late 2011, and plantation managers here are only just beginning to set about identifying HCVF areas and are also required to prepare a Conservation Management Plan by the end of 2012.
Therefore working particularly closely with these two plantation companies will provide an excellent opportunity to contrast and compare the ways in which the concept of HCVF is applied. More significantly the lessons learned from the GP experience can be applied to the AFC plantation situation, and it is anticipated that the findings from this research will provide a significant contribution and guidance to both the AFC’s pending Conservation Management Plan, and to a review of the GP’s plan as well. This approach to the research ensures that the topic maintains an applied nature in keeping with the qualification of Masters of Applied Science.

The value of this line of research to myself as a researcher/academic will be a thorough understanding of the range of ‘tools’ used for wildlife conservation in tropical production landscapes; landscapes that are set to cover significant areas of Borneo Island. The way in which the research will be structured will allow me to network widely throughout Borneo and other parts of Tropical East Asia, and as a result develop new and fruitful partnerships and support for
future long-term research projects for both myself and other New Zealand based researchers.


De Jong, W., Tuck-Po, L., and Ken-ichi, A. (2003) The political ecology of tropical forests in Southeast Asia: historical roots of modern problems. In Jong, W., Tuck-Po, L., and Ken-ichi, A. (Ed’s) The political ecology of tropical forests in Southeast Asia: historical perspectives. Kyoto University Press, Kyoto, Japan.
Hazebroek, H. P., and Morshidi, A. K. A. (2001) National parks of Sarawak. Natural History Publications, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

Inger, R. F. (2007) The significance of tropical planted forests in the conservation of Bornean biodiversity: an amphibian perspective. In Stuebing, R., Unggang, J., Ferner, J., Ferner, J., Giman., and Ping, K. K. (Eds) Proceedings of the regional conference of biodiversity conservation in tropical planted forests in Southeast Asia. Forest Department, Kuching, Malaysia.

Jennings, S., Nussbaum, R., Judd, N., Evans, T., Azevedo, T., Brown, N., Colchester, M., Iacobelli, T., Jarvie, J., Lindhe, A., Synnott, T., Vellejos, CYaroshenko, A., and Chunquan, Z. (2003) The high conservation value forest toolkit. ProForest, Oxford, UK.

Padoch, C., and Peluso, N. L. (2003) Borneo people and forests in transition: an introduction. In Padoch, C., and Peluso, N. L. (Ed’s) Borneo in transition: people, forests, conservation and development. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Potter, L. (2006) Forward. In Cooke, F. M. (Ed) State, communities and forests in contemporary Borneo. The Australian National University E Press, Canberra, Australia.

Shadbolt, A. B., and Ragai, R. (2010) Effects of habitat fragmentation on the movement patterns and dispersal ability of the brown spiny rat (Maxomys rajah) in the Planted Forest Zone of Sarawak, Eastern Malaysia. Biodiversity Conservation 19: Pp 531 – 541.

Stuebing, R. B. (2005) Wildlife conservation in the planted forests of Sarawak: blind ambition? In Tuen, A. A. and Das, I. (Eds) Wallace in Sarawak – 150 years later. An international conference on biogeography and biodiversity. Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Kota Samarahan.
I am a landscape architect with the Christchurch City Council in Christchurch, New Zealand, and contract lecturer at Lincoln University. I specialise in ecological restoration and landscape planning based on the emerging discipline of landscape ecology.

Other than my role as a landscape architect, my main area of research is the sustainable conservation and management of wildlife in tropical timber plantations. My recently completed PhD research has seen me travelling to Sarawak, East Malaysia (on Borneo Island) once or twice a year since 2005, and in March this year I will be relocating to Kuching, Sarawak with my family for nine months where I am planning to continue with this work.

This blog (blogging being the first sign of madness) aims to keep folks back home up to date with what I'm getting up to on Borneo over the following months. More importantly it will be used to disseminate preliminary research findings, and as a tool for discussion on the research, and I invite anyone with an interest in the biodiversity of Borneo's forests to contribute.