Archive for January, 2009

Tropical insects on Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia’s highest mountain, in Borneo, have moved uphill to cope with changes in climate, a recent survey by British researchers found.

The study, carried out by the University of York researchers, found that the insects have moved up in search of cooler places by about 220 feet or 67 metres between the first survey carried out in 1965 and the recent one in 2007.


University of York said in a press release that its PhD student, I-Ching Chen — the first author of the study — said the findings demonstrate that climate change is affecting the distributions of tropical insects.

Potentially bad for biodiversity

“Tropical insects form the most diverse group of animals on earth but to-date we have not known whether they were responding to climate change,” he said. The new study confirmed that they had been affected by the change in the climate and this, he said, “is potentially bad for biodiversity.”

Professor Chris Thomas, who led the study, said, “Large numbers of species are completely confined to tropical mountains, such as Mount Kinabalu: many of the species found by the expeditions have never been found anywhere else on earth.”

Smaller space uphill, some species likely to die out

He added that “as these species get pushed uphill towards cooler conditions, the amount of land that is available to them gets smaller and smaller. And because most of the top of the mountain is bare rock, they may not be able to find suitable habitats, even if the temperature is right.”

Some of the species are likely to die out, he said.

The New Expedition in 2007 was joined by Henry Barlow, one of the members of the original survey, whose life-long enthusiasm for moths helped I-Ching Chen, who is from Taiwan, to come to terms with the sheer diversity of moths she had to identify.

Jeremy Holloway, a Research Associate at the Natural History Museum in London, and another member of the 1965 expedition, devoted his career to the identification (taxonomy) of moths from South East Asia, enabling the research team to identify the new samples. Armed with the data from 1965, moth-trapping equipment, tents, sleeping bags and rations, I-Ching and colleagues set out to repeat the original survey.

“Photographs from the 1965 expedition led us back to exactly the same sites sampled 42 years ago,” said Dr Suzan Benedick, expedition member, and Universiti Malaysia Sabah entomologist.

The new survey involved climbing the mountain and catching moths up to an elevation of 3,675 metres above sea level. Once all of the specimens had been caught and identified, then the team compared the heights at which each species had been found in 1965 and again in 2007.

The results revealed a highly statistically significant shift, indicating that the moths are now found higher on the mountain than previously.

Some positive news

There is a more positive note, however. As the highest and coolest location between the Himalaya and New Guinea, Mount Kinabalu represents an extremely important “climate change refuge.”

Species that begin to find conditions too hot (or dry) in the surrounding lowlands may be able to find suitable conditions by moving upwards on the slopes of this mountain, the report suggests.

“The critical thing is to protect the forests surrounding the mountain, so that the lowland species are able to reach the cooler conditions that they may need,” said Dr Jane Hill, expedition member, and one of I-Ching Chen’s advisors.


Below is the extract of the study, titled Elevation increases in moth assemblages over 42 years on a tropical mountain, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Physiological research suggests that tropical insects are particularly sensitive to temperature, but information on their responses to climate change has been lacking—even though the majority of all terrestrial species are insects and their diversity is concentrated in the tropics.

Here, we provide evidence that tropical insect species have already undertaken altitude increases, confirming the global reach of climate change impacts on biodiversity.

In 2007, we repeated a historical altitudinal transect, originally carried out in 1965 on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, sampling 6 moth assemblages between 1,885 and 3,675 m elevation. We estimate that the average altitudes of individuals of 102 montane moth species, in the family Geometridae, increased by a mean of 67m over the 42 years.

Our findings indicate that tropical species are likely to be as sensitive as temperate species to climate warming, and we urge ecologists to seek other historic tropical samples to carry out similar repeat surveys.
These observed changes, in combination with the high diversity and thermal sensitivity of insects, suggest that large numbers of tropical insect species could be affected by climate warming.

As the highest mountain in one of the most biodiverse regions of the world, Mount Kinabalu is a globally important refuge for terrestrial species that become restricted to high altitudes by climate warming.

A three-party consortium will undertake the development of a RM7 billion (US$2 billion) submarine cable to carry 1,600 megawatt of power from Borneo to Peninsular Malaysia.

The three parties are Malaysia’s energy giant Tenaga Nasional Bhd, Sarawak state power firm Sarawak Energy Bhd and Ministry of Finance Inc.

The energy transmitted through the 679km long cable between Sarawak and Yong Peng in Johor, Peninsular Malaysia, will be from the Bakun Hydroelectric Power project in Sarawak.

Tenaga Nasional said in a filing to Bursa Malaysia yesterday that the on-land transmission systems for Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak will be developed by Sarawak Energy and Tenaga Nasional respectively, according to a report by Bernama.

Greenlight to operate Bakun hydro power

Tenaga Nasional and Sarawak Energy have also received approval in principle from the government to take over the operation of the Bakun Hydroelectric Project.

The two companies will take over the operation from Sarawak Hidro Sdn Bhd through a leasing agreement and to develop the associated transmission system, which will see the export of 1,600 megawatt (MW) electricity from the Bakun project to Peninsular Malaysia.

The remaining power will be plugged into Sarawak’s power grid.

Sabah Is Spot On, Says Travel Writer

Written by Jaxon S on Monday, January 19th, 2009 in Borneo Travel.

Travel writer Fiona Bruce spent some times in Sabah and concluded:

“Much as I loved our stay in Sabah this time round, it did lack much of the authenticity I found all those years ago. But I reckon if you want a little bit of adventure, or as much as you can safely have with young children, as well as a sense of being in a completely different culture but with the haven of a luxury hotel attached, it’s spot on.”

Her full article, titled “Fiona Bruce is wild about Sabah” appeared in The Times.

Annular Solar Eclipse Over Borneo On Jan 26

Written by Jaxon S on Sunday, January 11th, 2009 in Borneo Miscellaneous Stories.

An annular solar eclipse will sweep over Indian Ocean on Jan 26, the first eclipse for the year 2009.

An annular eclipse occurs when the sun and moon are exactly in line, but the apparent size of the Moon is smaller than that of the Sun. Hence the sun appears as a very bright ring, or annulus, surrounding the outline of the Moon. [Wikipedia]

Crescent sun setting in Borneo

People in Borneo will be among the lucky ones as they can see almost the full grandeur of the eclipse.

In Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, the first contact — the moment when the edge of the moon overlaps with the sun — will take place at 8.43am UT or about 4.43pm local time.

The eclipse will be at its maximum at 5.54pm local time when the moon totally obscures 75 per cent of the sun, leaving only a tiny crescent of the sun. [Watch the eclipse's animation as can be seen from Kota Kinabalu].

[Graphic: Eclipses Online]

The luckiest of people will be those living in Tanjung Karang, south of Sumatra, Indonesia as they will be able to witness the full grandeur of the annular eclipse — when the moon totally obscures the inner part of the sun, leaving only its outer edge visible.

The annular eclipse can also be seen in Sarawak. In fact, the best place to watch the eclipse in Malaysia is in Sri Aman, where gazers can expect to see nearly 83 per cent of the sun obscured by the moon. [Watch the eclipse's animation as can be seen from Sri Aman]

Spectacular view

In Kota Kinabalu, Tanjung Lipat will be the best place to view the eclipse. Those with good photographic sets may want to set up their equipment there and pray that the sky will be clear.

In fact the eclipse that is going to be visible in Kota Kinabalu on the evening of Jan 26 will be among the most spectacular annular eclipses. Here’s why:

At 5.54pm, the sun is about to set in Sabah. From the Tanjung Lipat vantage point, the sun can still be seen above the horizon, hovering just above the sea water.

Heaven knows what a view that will be

That will be a god-send photo opportunity for photographers. Not only can they photograph the eclipse, they can also have the horizon, the sea, beach, trees, people, huts, islands, golden sky and ships mooring off the Kota Kinabalu port as elements to create a dramatic ambiance of their pictures. Others may also want to take the eclipse against the Sabah Foundation Building.

The whole process will be over by 6.57pm local time, meaning the sun will still be partly-eclipsed by the moon by the time it disappears from the horizon!

People in the old days would be left wondering if the sun would still rise the next day!

IMPORTANT NOTE ON PHOTOGRAPHING ECLIPSE: Do not look directly at the sun from your camera viewfinder unless you are wearing special eyeglasses as even the few seconds of exposure to the glare can permanently damage the retina.

P.S: The annular eclipse can also be seen partially from states in Peninsular Malaysia.

P.P.S: I hope I am correct with my calculation of the time, otherwise many will miss the eclipse, which is to occur at 8.43:57.5 UT (Universal Time). If my understanding is correct, UT is similar to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) and Malaysia is +8 hours of GMT, hence 8.43:57.5 UT is actually 4.43:57.5pm. Please korek me if I am wrong.

Sipadan Island Beach Is One Of World’s Most Unusual Beaches

Written by Jaxon S on Saturday, January 10th, 2009 in Borneo Travel.

Writers at Australia’s The Age newspaper had an unusual assignment recently – one that I myself would love to do – that is, to strech out on some of the world’s most unusual beaches and write a thing or two about the beaches.

Gardner Bay beach at Isla Espanola, Galapagos Islands, seems so far away from where I am; so is Pendine Beach in Wales or Cenito in Naples and their distance make the unusualness even more more profound.

Closer to home, however, is Sipadan Island, a place I have visited on many occasions, which The Age considered as one of the world’s unusual beaches.

Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters

Writer Andrew Heasley wrote in the newspaper’s very recent edition that:

As you wade into the warm Sulawesi Sea from the white sands of Malaysia’s Sipadan Island, off the east coast of Borneo, an abundance of tropical fish flit in front of your snorkelling mask.

Get into chest-deep water and they grow in size - rainbow-coloured trigger fish, angel fish and parrot fish.

But it’s beyond this point that Sipadan, touted as one of the top 10 diving spots in the world, is unique. Within about eight metres of the water’s edge, swimmers are confronted by an inky-blue line. This is the “drop-off”, where the sea floor drops almost vertically to a depth of 600 metres. Local dive operators say there’s another shelf beyond this, with a further two-kilometre drop. [Source]

He also wrote about what he described as one of the most spectacular sites in Sipadan, namely the “turtle graveyard” where a yawning cave entrance opens into a labyrint of caves, with “big shells are all that remain of turtles that once swam in, ran out of air and drowned before they could find their way out.”

Borneo Made It To Top 10 Natural History Stories Of 2008

Written by Jaxon S on Friday, January 9th, 2009 in Borneo Flora and Fauna.

It’s been quite sometime since I last blogged here; I’m still around but have been suffering from blogging burnout. I’ve recovered now and eager to resume my blogging activities.

I hope to be able to blog more actively this year. For a start I want to share this piece of news to you:

The Natural History Museum has revealed its Top 10 natural history stories of 2008 which includes the discovery of the fossil of a 150-million-year-old sea reptile that grew to 15m in length in the Arctic, and an unusual British dinosaur with crocodile-like skull.

Second in the list is a story about Borneo’s stick insect, which is holding the record as the world’s longest insect — at 56.7cm.

The insect is found in remote area of Penampang near Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah, by collector and naturalist Datuk Chan Chew Lun (picture by Natural History Museum).

Borneo really is one of the planet’s biodiversity hot spots but it would not be for long if nothing is done to protect its natural heritage, some of which, like its Tropical forest, is nearly as old as the island itself.

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