Preliminary outcomes from the iCUBE Bukit Pagon Expedition

The Bukit Pagon expedition marks the first systematic study of the biodiversity and environment of a high altitude forest in Brunei. The forest within the UBD research area at LP 61 is montane heath forest. Heath forest is a rare forest type in Brunei, covering only c. 1% of the land area. While some studies have been conducted in lowland heath forests in Brunei, most notably in the two 1 ha UBD permanent forest plots at Bukit Sawat and Badas, montane heath forest had remained unstudied. Thus, the Bukit Pagon expedition marked a major milestone for ecological studies in Brunei by providing the first inventory of flora and fauna of this montane heath habitat.

Within the one-week expedition, researchers have discovered numerous plant and animal species, including several new records for Brunei. Among the fauna that were documented include 82 species of birds, 20 species of stick insects, 20 species of true bugs, 10 species of odonates, 6 species of small mammals, 21 species of amphibians, 4 species of snakes, 6 species of lizards and geckos, 3 species of fish and one turtle species. New fauna records for Brunei include three species of birds, a species of frog, a species of stalk-eyed fly and various insect species.

The flora documented during the expedition included various species of trees, two Nepenthes species, at least 40 species of bryophytes with possibly 2 new records for Borneo, various species of herbs and ferns. In a 20 x 100 m transect set up along the topographic gradient, there were a total of 334 trees ≥ 5 dm diameter at breast height (dbh). The dominant tree family within this transect was Sapotaceae, which is in marked contrast to the dominant Dipterocarpaceae family within lowland forests of Brunei. Another important tree species present was Agathis dammara, a highly sought-after timber species. Large stands of this species have been completely extracted throughout much of its range in Borneo, most notably in Kalimantan. The population at Pagon LP 61 is therefore important as possibly one of the most intact populations of A. dammara in Borneo.

Highlights from the expedition include the possible discovery of a new species of an aroid and a new species of caecilian, new records of plant and animal species that previously were only found in lowland dipterocarp forests of Brunei, as well as records of endemic plants and animals.

Relevance to the community and the Country

Bukit Pagon and the higher elevation forests located at the southernmost tip of the Temburong District are the only examples of montane forests in Brunei Darussalam. As the first scientific study of this montane habitat, outcomes from the iCUBE Bukit Pagon Expedition will not only be published in scientific literature, but will be disseminated to the general public in Brunei and to the international community. This outreach is aimed to publicise the unique biodiversity of Brunei Darussalam and to further highlight Brunei’s global status as a biodiversity hotspot.

In line with Brunei’s commitment to the Heart of Borneo (HoB) initiative and Brunei’s National HoB Project Implementation Framework, biodiversity data from the Expedition are expected to assist the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR) in formulating a management plan for high elevation montane forests in Brunei. This is especially crucial for the research area at LP 61, located close to the Sarawak border, where signs of intrusion and illegal logging are already present. Baseline biodiversity data as well as taxonomic checklists from the Expedition area will enable authorities to assess current threats to the area, and to plan for anticipated threats in future. An assessment of the conservation status of flora and fauna recorded during the Expedition in accordance with the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species will be conducted to further advise MIPR on the urgency of action for high-valued taxa.

The iCUBE Bukit Pagon Expedition is one of many research ventures planned under the iCUBE Initiative which will enable UBD to contribute to the National vision of sustainable development and towards solidifying Brunei’s image as a country committed to conservation and environmental protection. Under the iCUBE Initiative, UBD will continue to work with stakeholders and key partners such as MIPR on research projects that are aimed at more than scientific exercise, but rather to assist MIPR and other stakeholders in further promoting sustainable development in Brunei.