Author: Katie King

First-ever 100-meter tropical tree discovered – the world’s tallest known flowering plant- has been located, climbed & measured in Sabah, Malaysia.

A climber on their way up to measure the tallest tree ever found in the tropics!
Photo by Unding Jami

A team led by the Universities of Nottingham and Oxford, working with the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP), announced the discovery of a 330.7-foot (100.8-meter) giant yellow meranti tree (Shorea faguetiana) growing in the Danum Valley Conservation Area. This is the first 100-meter tropical tree recorded anywhere in the world. The scientific study is being published in bioRxiv this week, and is currently in review in a scientific journal.

The tree was originally detected in 2018 by laser scanning the forest from an airplane. These scans were then translated into three dimensional images of the forest canopy, where the giant trees began to emerge. Based on the data provided from the laser, it was estimated that the tree was between 325 feet (99 meters) and 377 feet (115 meters), but in order to verify the exact height it was necessary to climb the tree and measure it by hand with a tape measure.  The SEARRP tree climbing expedition was led by Field Manager Jamiluddin Jami (Unding) and his team of five tree climbing experts.  Prof. Mary Gagen sat down with Unding to hear about the experience of climbing this giant beauty, and this riveting interview has been published in The National Geographic. At SEARRP we are thrilled to have been involved with this exciting collaboration and extend a huge congratulations and thank you to Unding and the team for their hard work!

The planning process for climbing the tree was rigorous & required a high level of skill to ensure a safe and successful expedition.
Photo by Unding Jami
The SEARRP tree climbing team
Photo by Unding Jami

SEARRP scientists show that termites mitigate effects of drought in tropical rainforest

Worker termites (Longipeditermes longipes) perform key ecological functions in tropical ecosystems, are strongly affected by variation in rainfall, and respond negatively to habitat disturbance.
Photo: Chien C. Lee (cover of Science 11 Jan 2019:Vol. 363, Issue 6423, pp. 174-177

A major new study, led jointly by the University of Liverpool and the Natural History Museum and published in Science, has discovered that termites mitigate against the effects of drought in tropical rain forests.

Researchers from both institutions undertook the first large-scale study to test the hypothesis that termites play a crucial role in maintaining ecosystem processes in rainforests during periods of drought.

Termites play an important role in the ecosystem as decomposers and facilitate nutrient cycling, enhance soil moisture and affect nutrients. They are one of the few living creatures that can break down cellulose found in plant material.

Working in tropical rainforest in Malaysian Borneo, during and after the extreme El Nino drought of 2015 – 16, the research team compared sites with lots of termites with sites where termites had been experimentally removed using novel suppression methods.

They found that the sites with termites saw an increase in the abundance of termites during the drought period, with fewer termites in the non-drought period. The greater number of termites during the drought resulted in higher rates of leaf litter decomposition and nutrient heterogeneity, and increased soil moisture and seedling survival rates compared with the non-drought period.

Liverpool ecologist, Professor Kate Parr from the University’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “Whilst there has been some work exploring how severe drought affects plants in tropical rainforests, our study shows for the first time that having termites helps protect forest from the effects of drought. Termites might only be small but collectively their presence can help reduce the effects of climate change in tropical systems”.

Lead author, Dr Hannah Griffiths, also with the School of Environmental Sciences said:
“The results of our study are important because our study shows that intact biological communities can act as a kind of ecological insurance by keeping ecosystems functioning in times of environmental stress.”

Joint lead author, Louise Ashton from the Natural History Museum and University of Hong Kong said “Termites confer important ecosystem services, not only in pristine tropical rainforest, but in disturbed or even agricultural ecosystems, if termite abundance is reduced with disturbance, these habitats could be particularly sensitive to drought.”

Senior author, Dr Paul Eggleton from the Natural History Museum said “People are just realising how important invertebrates are ecologically, particularly social insects. Termites and ants may well be the ‘little things that rule the world’.”

Dr Glen Reynolds, SEARRP Director, said “It’s great to see such ground-breaking research being done as part of our programme – and particularly to see it published in Science. This work has important implications for the conservation and restoration of tropical forests – and indeed the sustainable management of agricultural plantations. Our team looks forward to working with Hannah, Louise, Kate and Paul to ensure that these findings achieve the maximum possible impact”

The paper `Termites mitigate the effects of drought in tropical rainforest’ is published in Science (11 Jan 2019:Vol. 363, Issue 6423, pp. 174-177).

The study was conducted in collaboration with the Natural History Museum of London.

SEARRP’s Assistant Director Dr Jennifer Lucey has published a fascinating piece in The Guardian addressing the importance of Knowledge Exchange and working with Industry to achieve conservation objectives.

To save the rainforest, we need to work with the palm oil industry. Photograph Jen Lucey

SEARRP’s Assistant Director of Knowledge Exchange Dr Jennifer Lucey has just published an interesting article in The Guardian about the importance of working with the Palm Oil Industry in order to further conservation objectives. The piece offers insight into the dilemma that scientists face when focusing on research that looks at real-world problems instead of pure, curiosity-driven science. Dr Lucey presents a compelling case for doing both, especially when addressing complex issues regarding sustainability despite the ever increasing human pressures on our planet. Click here to read the full article.

Dr Jennifer Lucey awarded a NERC Early Career Impact Award

Dr Jennifer Lucey awarded a NERC Early Career Impact Award

We are delighted to announce that SEARRP Assistant Director for Knowledge Exchange, Dr Jen Lucey has been awarded the Early Career Award at the NERC Impact Awards 2018 for the impact of her research within the oil palm sector.
At a time when the environmental footprint of food production is of concern to many, Dr Lucey has dedicated her career to reducing the damaging effect that deforestation for commodities such as palm oil can have on biodiversity in the tropics.
This research has provided scientifically rigorous tools, being used by industry, farmers and regulators to determine the minimum forest patch sizes that need to set aside in agricultural land to preserve biodiversity. Working with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), her NERC-funded research underpins the ‘sustainable palm oil’ trademark, helping consumers make informed choices and setting industry standards adopted by many of the world’s largest producers, already applied across millions of hectares of land.
Dr Lucey said: “I’m really excited to have received this award. It feels great to know that all my work with the palm oil sector has been effective in creating international impact for my research.”
Dr Phil Heads, NERC Director of Research & Innovation, who represented NERC on the Impact Awards 2018 judging panel, said: “The early-career finalists this year have both dedicated their careers to stemming the tide of worldwide deforestation and biodiversity loss, and are helping to tackle this at the largest of scales. This was a very closely contested category, and Dr Lucey’s research was chosen as the winner in recognition of the large number of beneficiaries of her work, from NGOs to businesses, large and small, to individual consumers around the world. This research is also relevant to industries beyond palm oil, including pulp and paper.”
Dr Lucey received £10,ooo to further the impact of her research.
Read more about Dr Jennifer Lucey’s research in the Planet Earth article Protecting biodiversity in palm oil. First published on the NERC website here.

Science-based Environmental Education & Outreach in Kota Kinabalu Schools with Prof Mary Gagen from Swansea University, physicist Dr Kristi Praki & designer Paige Jennings

Science-based Environmental Education & Outreach in Kota Kinabalu Schools with Prof Mary Gagen, physicist Dr Kristi Praki & designer Paige Jennings.

It has been an interesting, busy and incredibly educational week! SEARRP in collaboration with Yayasan Sabah’s Conservation & Environmental Management Division (CEMD), Sabah Nature Club and Professor Mary Gagen of Swansea University have come together to conduct a series of Environmental Education (EE) & Outreach workshops at schools around Kota Kinabalu. This Welsh Government funded initiative is a partnership between S4 Swansea University Science for Schools and Oriel Science programmes, which focus on increasing the reach of science research to children and the wider public. These outreach programmes promote ‘Science for All’ by sharing research-led, hands-on science that is accessible, informative and interactive. This visit to Sabah is their first international programme and participants were students, young adults and members of the Sabah Environmental Network (SEEN). These students, together with Prof. Mary Gagen, physicist Dr Kristi Praki & designer Paige Jennings had the opportunity to explore plastic pollution, biodiversity and the greenhouse effect, with the aim of improving their understanding of environmental issues through science-based teaching, demonstrations and hands-on activities. Together, SEARRP and Prof. Mary Gagen will explore avenues to further develop EE and Outreach activities in schools across Sabah. We can’t wait!

Hands-on activities are an excellent way to learn about science-based environmental education.

Deadline for Capacity Building and TESSA training application is Friday, 24th August 2018.

This is a gentle reminder that the closing date for the Capacity Building and TESSA training application is Friday, 24th of August 2018. For those who are interested to participate and apply for the training, application guidance notes as well as a downloadable application form is available on our website. Please carefully refer to the conditions of applicants and the guidance notes before filling in the application form.

Again we would like to thank everyone for their participation at the initial Capacity Building and TESSA Training Stakeholder Consultations which were held in Penang, Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur in May and June 2018, and if you have any other inquiries or would like an extension of time to submit the application form, please contact Melissa Payne via email

Dr Lydia Cole & Dr Jenny Hodgson visit Borneo to meet with partners & explore landscapes involved in the NERC-funded project: Decision support for restoring ecological networks in rapidly developing, biodiverse countries.

The kind residents of Kampung Sikalabaan, in Sabah’s Heart of Borneo region, showed us around their community forest and farmland for the day.

Business cards, Butterflies and Boats in Borneo:

Whilst everyone was sweltering under abnormally tropical temperatures in the UK during July, Dr Jenny Hodgson and I (Dr Lydia Cole) were enjoying a relatively temperate time in the Tropics. We spent the majority of the month in Malaysia and Indonesia, visiting the partners and landscapes that are involved in our NERC-funded project: Decision support for restoring ecological networks in rapidly developing, biodiverse countries. Ghana is the other country involved in the project, which we had the privilege to visit back in April (reported on here). This time, road trip around Southeast Asia!

Our travels started with a stop-off in Kuching, Sarawak, to attend the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation’s (ATBC) annual meeting, entitled Linking Natural History and the Conservation of Tomorrow’s Tropical Ecosystems. It was a fascinating five days, attended by a huge range of nationalities talking on a similarly wide variety of topics. Jenny presented on Condatis, and I on the long-term ecology of tropical peatlands (another passion). Many of our collaborators were also there presenting, including: Professor Jane Hill and Dr Sarah Scriven from the University of York, and Dr Jed Brodie and Dr Sara Williams from the University of Montana. And we made some useful contacts for the Condatis project, as my new collection of business cards testifies.

Jenny presenting the concepts of Condatis to the participants of our training workshop at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).

Just hours after the closing ceremony of the conference had finished (and the after party was likely still in full swing!), we flew on to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. In order for us ecologists to understand the human-component of the forested landscapes in the region, we were extremely fortunate to be invited to visit several different communities with PACOS Trust (an inspiring charity supporting indigenous communities in Sabah). So the next morning, five of us, equipped with walking boots and mosquito nets, headed upstream, into the Heart of Borneo.

Travelling by boat to the village (kampung) of Sikalabaan, about two hours up-river from Kampung Salong, where the road ends.

We spent three nights in the “cultural house” of Kampung Sikalabaan, along with a dozen other men and boys who were visiting in order to attend training on how to fix boat motors, organised by PACOS. These communities rely on mechanised boats to travel between villages, to school, to obtain provisions and to generate an income; with replacement parts for engines being so expensive, it is important that people know how to fix them. PACOS offers training courses for members of indigenous communities across Sabah, on subjects ranging from how to plant chilli peppers, fix broken machinery, to how to make soap, with the aim of improving their capacity to sustain a low-impact livelihood in the often remote locations they occupy.

We spent one incredible day observing how members of Kampung Sikalabaan use their forest and its plethora of resources. Members of seven families led us patiently (we were significantly slower and less agile than them, despite the laden woven backpacks they were carrying!) through the jungle to their farms, laid out in forest clearings. Along the way, they stopped occasionally to harvest wild ginger or check on a small vegetable plot they’d established, apparently opportunistically, within their community land. Early afternoon, after walking upstream/in-stream for quite some time, we stopped for a spectacular picnic: out of their woven baskets, the women produced a feast for the twenty or so of us, with freshly boiled rice, freshly picked aubergine broth and then to top it off, they caught and we cooked freshly-netted fish from the flowing waters two feet away. Beats a Sainsbury’s sandwich.

The first river crossing. We didn’t realise there were about a dozen more to come. Each time it was so refreshing to wade through thigh-deep water; a welcome relief from the tropical humidity. Thankfully my camera avoided any refreshing dips though!

It was a privilege to see how this community so expertly uses their land, and how important it is for them to have access to the forest and its resources. With rural-urban migration and the designation of ‘communal lands’ providing opportunities for the expansion of oil palm into these areas, as well as pressures on resources and disturbance to ecosystems from logging, industrial agriculture and mining, these community-owned lands are being compromised. The Government’s goal of expanding strictly protected areas across more of its forested asset adds another dimension to the challenge of maintaining indigenous communities in these landscapes. But more discussion on this complex issue will have to wait for a future blog! We thank PACOS and SEARRP (Gordon, Angie and Agnes in particular) for organising this insightful opportunity.

Leaving the forest and returning to Kota Kinabalu was a bit of a shock, though the washing machine was welcomed! The next day we headed into the Forestry Complex at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) campus for two days of training. We had 20 participants attend from a range of backgrounds: in addition to UMS students and lecturers, people attended from the Departments of Agriculture, Irrigation and Drainage (JPS), Forestry (SFD) and Environment Protection (JPAS), from WWF-Malaysia and SEARRP. The first day was led by Dr Sarah Scriven and introduced participants to the R program and how to perform basic analysis and geospatial data processing. The second day, led by myself and Jenny, introduced the concept of Condatis, followed by an interactive session where we guided people through performing their own analyses using the new web version of the tool. (Butterflies (rama-rama in Malay) were used as the study organism; Jenny’s favourite!) Though we were a little optimistic as to how much material we wanted to cover in two days, it seemed to be a success: our participants provided positive and useful feedback that we used to improve and refine our training workshop the following week in Indonesia.

This post is about the 11 month NERC-funded Innovation Follow-on project: Decision support for restoring ecological networks in rapidly developing, biodiverse countries that is in collaboration with the project “Conservation Mapping for New Protected Areas” which is supported by the Rainforest Trust and is based on a strategic partnership between the Sabah Forestry Department, SEARRP, the Carnegie Institution for Science, PACOS Trust and BC Initiative. The R program and Condatis training is also conducted as part of the project “Conservation Mapping for New Protected Areas” in conjunction with the International Tropical Forestry Programme of the Faculty of Science and Natural Resources, Universiti Malaysia Sabah. Click here for a link to the original blog post from Dr Lydia Cole.

Dr Jen Lucey – Highly Commended at the Vice-Chancellor’s Innovation Awards at the University of Oxford, UK.

SEARRP’s Assistant director for Knowledge Exchange, Dr Jen Lucey, was Highly Commended in the Early Career category of the Vice-Chancellor’s Innovation Awards at the University of Oxford, UK. The awards took place on 12th July 2018 and seek to recognise and celebrate exceptional research-led innovations and products at all University levels that are having societal or economic impact. The initiative attracted a total of 78 entries, from which four winners were chosen and a further 13 projects highly commended across four categories: team work, building capacity, inspiring leadership and early career success.

Dr Lucey worked with the oil palm industry to use her scientific research to develop no deforestation standards. Her synthesis of forest fragmentation was pivotal in developing forest patch analysis for the High Carbon Stock Approach, ensuring that valuable fragmented forest is conserved in agricultural landscapes. The approach is now operating in over millions of hectares throughout the tropics in the oil palm, pulp and paper, and rubber industries. This research was also used to develop High Conservation Value risk maps for a simplified environmental assessment for smallholders to enable greater participation in RSPO certification. Dr Lucey is currently using forest structure and biodiversity data from her research to develop and test a tool for industry to monitor their forest set-asides, enabling long term effectiveness of no-deforestation policy.

The SFD & BALI project Training Workshop on High-Resolution Mapping of Sabah’s Forest Carbon

The Sabah Forestry Department, in collaboration with the BALI project (Biodiversity and Land-use Impacts on tropical ecosystem functioning) of the Human Modified Tropical Forests (HMTF) programme and South East Asia Rainforest Partnership (SEARRP) are organising a training day on ‘High Resolution Mapping of Sabah’s Forest Carbon’ to develop capacity in Carbon Stock Assessments. The workshop will be held at the Sabah Forestry Department, 29th June 2018 in Sandakan, and will focus on assessing carbon estimations with the Sabah REDD+ Technical Working Group with an emphasis on the importance of measuring, reporting and verifying carbon stocks in the State. This is an EU funded programme through the ‘Tackling Climate Change through Sustainable Forest management and Community Development’ initiative. For more information please visit the Bali website at

HMTF Science Day, 27th June 2018, at the Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

The Human Modified Tropical Forests (HMTF) Programme is holding a science focused knowledge exchange today, June 27th 2018, at the Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation at the Universiti Malaysia Sabah.  The aim of this meeting is to share and discuss results from the BALI (, LOMBOK ( and ECOFOR ( projects with local collaborators, researchers and students. The day will focus on science-based cross-consortia knowledge exchange and impact activities, scientific syntheses and reviews, and the potential for future grant proposals. After this meeting, many of the visiting scientists will have follow-up meetings that focus more specifically on policy and knowledge exchange with relevant stakeholders and policymakers in Sabah. For more information and the programme agenda for the HMTF Science Day, please visit