Author: Katie King

Collaboration between Human Modified Tropical Forests Programme (HMTF)-Land-use Options for Maintaining BiOdiversity and ecosystem (LOMBOK), SEARRP and Sabah Government Agencies

Dr Slade & Dr Bicknell in a recent meeting with relevant state government agencies.

HMTF-LOMBOK scientists Dr Jake Bicknell and Dr Eleanor Slade from the Universities of Kent and Oxford are working with SEARRP’s policy team of Agnes Agama and Melissa Payne to expand their collaboration with government agencies in Sabah. In the last few months, the team have held several science-for-policy meetings with the Department for Irrigation and Drainage (Sabah), the Environmental Protection Department and the Department of Agriculture (Sabah) to discuss ways in which the scientific evidence base generated through SEARRP-supported research can inform policies for the design and management of riparian areas within the State. This collaboration began at the Heart of Borneo in 2016, and a year later, Assistant Director of DID, Miklin Ationg, and Dr Slade presented a policy brief outlining the science base for the benefits of riparian reserves for biodiversity. This work is now being expanded by Dr Bicknell to model how different policy requirements in riparian reserve widths can impact on gains and losses for biodiversity, functioning and production lands, with input from our government collaborators. The results will be presented at a workshop planned for June 2018, co-hosted by all partners, to which other key government departments, and local stakeholders and NGOs will be invited to provide input and share ideas.

Swansea University, UK Donates Engaging Environmental Education Exhibit to the Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sabah.

RDC Manager Bernadette Foeman & Prof Mary Gagen looking at the “Telling Time with Trees” exhibition.

“I think the exhibit is excellent for the kids. They will really love it”, said Bernadette Joeman, Manager of the Sabah Forestry Department’s Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sepilok, Sandakan. On March 15, Prof. Mary Gagen of Swansea University, UK met with Bernadette and her team at the Rainforest Discovery Centre to donate an interactive educational exhibit entitled “Telling Time with Trees.”

“Telling Time with Trees,” which includes wood from Sabah, collected whilst Prof. Mary Gagen was sampling trees as a National Geographic Explorer, allows a hands-on and visual exploration of wood samples from around the world. The exhibit shows visitors how the rings in trees contain a historical record of the climate of the past, and how that record can help scientists understand climate change in the past and predict how the climate will change in the future. Before arriving at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, the “Telling Time with Trees” exhibit was on display in the UK and received more than 16,000 visitors.

Prof. Mary Gagen said “The Rainforest Discovery Centre is the perfect place for “Telling Time with Trees” to make a new home. The exhibit was created, using tree samples from all over the world collected for my research, for our Oriel Science centre in Wales. School children and members of the public learned all about tree ring science and got to examine and appreciate the beautiful Belian samples from Sabah. Oriel Science shares many of the same environmental science education goals of the RDC, and we’re delighted to share the exhibition, and these gorgeous wood samples, and we hope the visitors to the RDC enjoy the exhibit as much as we did in Wales”.

The exhibit donation was facilitated by the SEARRP. “We are delighted that local partners have responded so enthusiastically. We are keen to create more opportunities for Mary and her team at Swansea to collaborate with the network of environmental educators in Sabah on educational activities where local students use science to learn more about the rainforest,” said Dr. Glen Reynolds, Director of SEARRP.

Memorandum of Understanding between the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) and Wild Asia Sdn Bhd

A five-year MoU between SEARRP and Wild Asia was signed on November 27th, 2017 and will commence on January 1st, 2018. This new partnership aims to draw on the strengths of both organisations in order to encourage scientific research with a focus on issues relating to small-holder production of palm oil and the livelihoods of rural and forest-dependent communities in Sabah.

The collaboration will be based primarily at Wild Asia’s sites in Sabah and involve the communities with which they have built long-standing relationships – including at Beluran and on the Kinabantangan River. Working closely with these communities and Wild Asia, SEARRP aims to facilitate environmental and social research involving local and international scientists and teams of field staff from both Wild Asia and SEARRP.

This exciting new relationship for SEARRP will provide opportunities for scientists to work in under-studied landscapes and, we hope, for cutting edge research to better contribute to the livelihoods of local communities and the sustainability of smallholder agriculture. Through both organisation’s strong links with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), lessons learned from the SEARRP-Wild Asia partnership will potentially be scalable across SE Asia and the wider tropics through the RSPO’s smallholder certification programme, with which Wild Asia is closely involved, and SEARRP’s SEnSOR Programme (

A groundbreaking collaboration between the Sabah Department of Irrigation and Drainage, leading UK and Malaysian universities (University of Oxford, University of Kent, University of Lancaster, Universiti of Malaysia Sabah), and the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP).

Representatives from DID, UK & Malaysian Universities and SEARRP

The protection of “riparian reserves” – 20m on either side of rivers more than 3m wide – is a legal requirement in Sabah, which is a state regulation designed to protect water quality, water quantity and aquatic environments. With a growing interest in sustainability, the possible biodiversity co-benefits of this policy have been recognised by the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) Sabah, including the provision of natural habitats for important species, improved landscape connectivity, and the protection of important ecosystem services such as increased carbon sequestration. However, there is currently little empirical evidence available to demonstrate that riparian reserves are effective in conserving biodiversity and ecosystems. Where research exists, these insights are often inaccessible to policy-makers and practitioners in Sabah.

Scientists working together as part of the LOMBOK Project (Land-use Options for Maintaining BiOdiversity & eKosystem functions) aim to address this disparity by promoting the outcomes of their research to DID Sabah, which is the government agency responsible for formulating policy and guidelines on riparian reserves in Sabah. Additional funding from NERC, the British Council and the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) via the Newton-Ungku Omar Fund, has enabled LOMBOK scientists to establish a network of biodiversity monitoring and carbon (C) dynamics plots within riparian reserves which tests the effectiveness of riparian reserves – particularly by investigating the effects of the quality and width of riparian reserves on water quality, aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity and carbon fluxes.

This innovative collaboration between DID and the LOMBOK Project was facilitated by Agnes Agama, SEARRP’s Assistant Director of Policy. Agnes initiated the partnership at the 2016 Heart of Borneo (HoB) International Conference, hosted by the Sabah Forestry Department in Kota Kinabalu – during which SEARRP facilitated a workshop that paired scientists with policy-makers. It was at this workshop that opportunities emerged for SEARRP scientists to support DID in their efforts to strengthen riparian policy and guidelines for Sabah.

Following the workshop, scientists in the LOMBOK group, Eleanor Slade, Sarah Luke, Matthew Struebig, and students from the UK and UMS conducted a rapid evidence appraisal of the peer-reviewed scientific literature concerning the potential benefits of riparian reserves in tropical agriculture. The outcomes of this review have been synthesised into a policy brief aimed at informing the review of DID’s riparian policy and guidelines by enabling policy-makers to make decisions based on current scientific knowledge. The policy brief will be co-presented by DID and the LOMBOK group at the 2017 HoB International Conference which runs from October 24-25th in Kota Kinabalu. The presentation will highlight the collaborative processes that underpin our relationship, from fledging introductions at last year’s conference to the delivery of a high-impact, science-for-policy output a year later. It is an excellent example of how scientists and policy-makers can successfully work together to ensure that cutting edge research effectively contributes to improvements in policy and best practice.

SEARRP scientists, led by Dr Mikey O’Brien, publish paper in Nature Ecology and Evolution

Connection between drought and climate change experiment 50HA plot SEARRP

In a recent publication in Nature Ecology and Evolution, Dr Michael O’Brien, Glen Reynolds, Robert Ong and Andy Hector, investigate the link between drought and climate change in tropical forests. It is known that occasional periods of drought are typical of most tropical forests, but climate change is increasing drought frequency and intensity in many areas across the globe, threatening the structure and function of these ecosystems. The study took place in Borneo, Malaysia and was conducted by planting tropical tree seedlings into mixed groups and monocultures and using plastic sheeting to build clear huts over them to prevent rainfall and simulate drought events similar to those caused by El Niño, which occur irregularly in Borneo. By altering both the rainfall and seedling mixtures, it was possible to test the interactive effects of diversity and drought on seedling growth and gain a better understanding of seedling response to future droughts, which are likely to increase under climate change.

The results of the study found that all seedlings responded to drought, but that seedlings in more diverse groups had less water stress than seedlings in monocultures after a severe drought. In addition, seedlings in the diverse groups maintained their growth similar to seedlings that never experienced drought. Therefore, complementary interactions among multiple species delayed the point at which water limited growth. Because seedling growth determines the future forest structure, these results demonstrate the importance of plant diversity for promoting drought resistance in tropical forests.

These findings have two major implications for our understanding of tropical forests under climate change. First, diversity promotes tree resistance to drought in tropical forests, which is important because drought is predicted to become more frequent and severe under climate-change scenarios. Second, because seedlings in monoculture neighborhoods were more inhibited by reduced water, drought has a role in driving diversity in tropical forests by reducing the success of seedlings in areas with low diversity. This indicates that a feedback exists whereby drought encourages diversity and diverse forests are more resistant to drought. However, this also means that biodiversity loss reduces the resistance of forests to drought which in turn can lead to further biodiversity loss. To prevent this reverse feedback loop, it is essential to conserve biodiversity in tropical forests — both by maintaining existing diverse forests and by using diverse seed mixtures when planting new forests during restoration. Using such diversity strategies will improve forest resistance to climate change.

Read the full paper here: Resistance of tropical seedlings to drought is mediated by neighbourhood diversity

New fees and booking guidelines for staying at the SAFE camp and Maliau Basin start August 1st 2017.

SAFE’s charges were set seven years ago but due to price increases across Malaysia, they are no longer able to offer these low rates. The new rates will start on the 1st of August 2017, and can be found here. The SAFE staff will begin taking this payment for room & board in cash, upon arrival at the SAFE camp. As before, all bookings should be made using the SAFE website.

Bookings for Maliau have also changed and now must be made two weeks in prior to going and payment to be made in advance. See here for more details. Please note that booking through the SAFE website will help with this process.

If you have any further questions regarding this new payment system please contact a member of the SEARRP team Adrian ( or Katie (

Upcoming events-the Heart of Borneo conference in KK 23rd-25th Oct 2017 & Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil meeting in Bali 27th-30th Nov 2017

As in previous years, SEARRP will be hosting two sessions at the Heart of Borneo (HoB) conference in Kota Kinabalu, October 23rd-25th 2017 at the Magellan Sutera Harbor. The focus of this year’s HoB will be revisiting the five primary objectives: Protection; Ecotoursim; Sustainable Development; Transboundry Cooperation; and Capacity Building. We will be sure to keep everyone updated on further details running up to the event. In addition, the annual RSPO Round Table meeting will be held in Bali this year November 27th-30th 2017 and, again, please look out for updates here.

Landmark Science Project to Expand Sabah’s Protected Forests

SFD's Fred Kugan & Datuk Sam Mannan with SEARRP's Dr Glen Reynolds & Dr Agnes Agama

SFD’s Fred Kugan & Datuk Sam Mannan with SEARRP’s Dr Glen Reynolds & Dr Agnes Agama

The Sabah Forestry Department signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) on April 20th 2017, launching a landmark project that will harness world-class science to support the Sabah State Government’s target of increasing protected area coverage to 30% of Sabah’s land area by 2025. Speaking at the opening of the MoU signing, Chief Conservator of Forests Datuk Sam Mannan emphasised how forest conservation is a major priority for the State Government of Sabah. “I am pleased to confirm that the Sabah Government is committed to increasing the extent of protected forests from the current 26% to 30% of land area by 2025. This will involve the protection of an additional c. 1 million acres of rainforest in Sabah.”

The MoU marks the launch of a landmark science project supported by the Rainforest Trust and based on a strategic partnership between the Sabah Forestry Department, SEARRP, the Carnegie Institution for Science, PACOS Trust and BC Initiative. Leading the coordination of this project, Dr Glen Reynolds, Director of SEARRP, explained that “between now and 2020, the project will generate maps of forest carbon, biodiversity and functional composition that will be integrated with archived and new field observations across a range of key taxa, including narrow-range endemic trees, and state-of-the-art meta-population models that identify critical habitat connections for range-shifting species.” The project will also consider other species, including those that provide important ecosystem services such as pollination and dispersal to ensure the efficacy of forest protection over time, especially resilience to climate change. “Integrating the livelihood requirements of forest-dependent communities will be a vital consideration in the selection of new protected areas. Led by our partners PACOS Trust and BC Initiative, the project will consult with local communities and stakeholders to generate cost-benefit options and reach consensus on an optimal scenario for rainforest protection,” Dr Reynolds added.

Speaking to over 60 scientists from leading universities in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and Malaysia at the Cambridge Conservation Initiative’s David Attenborough Building, Datuk Sam Mannan reiterated how, “science plays a major role in all we do and indeed the Royal Society-SEARRP, has been one of our longest standing partners. I am pleased to be working together with SEARRP and this exciting consortium of partners to identify new protected areas that not only conserve biodiversity but protect the livelihoods of our people”.