Saving Borneo's animals from deforestation & climate change

Gary Hughes
Eonycteris (bat) by Dr M Struebig/DICE

Despite the fact that many of Borneo’s rare species are in trouble new research shows that targeted conservation measures could save many of them.

As the third-largest island in the world and the largest island in Asia, Borneo stands out as a hotspot for biodiversity. And yet, based on climate projections alone, up to one in every three Bornean mammal species is expected to lose 30% or more of their habitat by the year 2080.

With additional losses as rainforests are cleared, nearly half of Borneo’s mammals could see suitable habitats shrink by a third or more in the coming decades.

However, the research, which was led by Dr Matthew Struebig at the University’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) and Dr Stephanie Kramer-Schadt and Dr Andreas Wilting of Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, has found that only a modest amount of additional land on Borneo—about 28,000 km2 or four percent of the island—would be needed outside of existing protected areas and reserves to safeguard many mammal species against threats from deforestation and climate change.

The team’s analyses also show that deforestation and climate change are both expected to hit lowland forests of Borneo the hardest. While lowland forests and especially peatlands will remain important for endangered species, such as the otter civet and flat-headed cat, the researchers say that higher-elevation reserves deserve special attention for mitigating the threat of climate change.

For the study, published by Current Biology, Dr Struebig and colleagues took a novel approach to assessing Borneo’s future by using a deforestation model to predict where forests will likely be lost over time. Previously, few forward-planning conservation assessments considered both the effects of climate change and land-cover change on tropical biodiversity because land-cover change is difficult to predict reliably. They also enlisted a global network of tropical mammal experts from conservation organisations, research institutions and government institutions on Borneo to quantify and help map suitable habitat for each species.

With the evidence base now in place, the researchers say they hope the findings will make an important difference to conservation efforts on the ground.

The team is now presenting its portfolio to government representatives in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei through the Borneo Futures initiative.

The paper, entitled Targeted Conservation to Safeguard a Biodiversity Hotspot from Climate and Land-Cover Change, is available at Current Biology