Murung Raya Expedition - Overview
STATUS - Completed
The Murung Raya Expedition was our inaugural project, combining scientific research and interactive multimedia to Disover, Educate, and Inspire
The expedition was an ambitious and pioneering project that has was won awards and plaudits from some of the biggest names in conservation and exploration: a multidisciplinary expedition to one of the most remote areas of threatened rainforest in the very centre of the island of Borneo.
Three challenging months were spent accessing and documenting a previously unstudied area of rainforest. New discoveries were made, multimedia ‘firsts’ were achieved, and the expedition has since been named Expedition of the Year by Explorer Magazine. The Royal Geographical Society, Zoological Society of London, WWF, Explorers Club, Natural History Museum, and Guardian newspaper were just a few of the institutions to support and engage with the project.
To explore and document an as yet unstudied area of primary rainforest in the Murung Raya district of Central Kalimantan, Borneo.
To create a representative picture of the biodiversity in the area through surveys on mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, epiphytes and forest structure.
To extend these surveys to the rainforest canopy via rope access.
To establish and map the range of a hybrid gibbon species thought to present in the region.
To use the expedition as a vehicle to raise awareness of the Heart of Borneo Rainforest and conservation/sustainability issues more widely.
To create and share educational resources online before, during and after the expedition, covering subjects such as conservation, rainforests ecosystems, climate change and global citizenship.
To create and share multimedia during the expedition that provides insights into expeditions, research methodologies, species, ecosystems and wider issues, in an interesting and exciting way.
To build capacity among Indonesian researchers and the remote communities in our research area..
To make our resources available in Indonesian as well as English.
To reach and engage with an international audience by creating an interactive expedition through the use of satellite technology and the internet, uploading videos, blogs and pictures near-daily from Camp Foyle.
To use the expedition as a learning platform for students from all disciplines at the universities of Exeter and Falmouth to gain professional experience.
To inspire future conservationists, researchers and explorers.
To engage with live audiences through live video links and online web chats to create a more personal empathy with this environment and its threats.
For centuries, the island of Borneo has captured the imagination of explorers and scientists alike. It used to be extensively covered in forests which are among the oldest in the world. Today, over 50% of this forest cover has disappeared and if business (in the form of timber extraction, oil palm plantation and various forms of mining) continues as usual less than a third of it will remain in 2020 (WWF, 2005).
At particular risk are the lowland dipterocarp forests. It is estimated that more than 60% of Borneo’s rainforest species reside. Unfortunately it is also the most commercially attractive and heaviest exploited ecosystem. It is these lowland forests that are disappearing at the fastest rate and it is telling that even Kalimantan’s protected areas do not provide the shelter one might expect. From 1985 to 2001 over 56% of the lowland forest situated in legally protected areas disappeared (Curran et al., 2004) and the implementation of more effective conservation measurements is thus of utmost importance.
Despite the extensive forest losses that continue to occur, one of the largest stretches of primary rainforests left in Southeast Asia still remain in the central parts of Borneo. The heart of Borneo is dominated by a large central mountain range spanning from the North East in Malaysia’s Sabah through to the South West in West Kalimantan (Map 1). It includes varying forest types, ranging from lowland and hill dipterocarp to heath and montane forests and is incredibly rich in species.To conserve the biodiversity in this vast region, the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei have signed a declaration in 2007; to cooperate in ensuring the effective management of forest resources and conservation of a network of protected areas, productive forests and other sustainable land-uses within an area which the three respective countries will designate as the “Heart of Borneo (HoB)”
However noble this declaration looks on paper the situation on the ground shows that there is still a long way to go. The absence of forestry law enforcement in Kalimantan is rule rather than exception. The decentralisation of the Indonesian government in 1999 has made it even more difficult to keep control over the various concessions that threaten the forests. It is the regional governments (Bupatis) that now have the authority to grant concessions. Because the influence of the exploitation companies reaches as far as the Bupatis’ palaces it is not surprising that subjective decisions are easily made.
The majority of the Borneo forests that are being exploited are little studied, if at all. So far, most ecological research and conservation expeditions have been carried out in the northern parts of Borneo; Sabah and Sarawak where logistics and the bureaucratic climate are more favourable. In contrast, relatively little is known from the Indonesian interior of the island and new species are still being discovered in the Heart of Borneo. Exploring and documenting unstudied and threatened areas will shed new light on species distribution patterns which will further their conservation.
Central Kalimantan, the province where this expedition took place, is now becoming the focus of attention. Chosen to be the pilot province to carry out the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) scheme in Indonesia, various trial and error projects will likely have a profound impact on forest management and conservation implementation. This only enhances the need for solid ecological knowledge.
The Mohot River is a tributary of the Joloi River located in the undeveloped centre of Borneo, the third largest island on earth, some 380km as the crow flies from the town of Banjarmasin on the south coast. It is extremely remote, and access difficult by definition.
The Murung Raya Expedition Team
The expedition team members were young, dynamic, and passionate about exploring the world and protecting it for future generations.
Martin Holland – Expedition Leader and Production Manager
|Heart of Borneo Project founder and Director, Martin is a double graduate from Exeter and Falmouth Universities, Martin brought a broad range of skills and experience to the team. He attempted his first expedition at 18 with a solo effort to overland from the UK to Australia. Since then he has worked and travelled in over 30 countries in Africa, Asia, South America, Australasia, and Europe through his work with charitable organisations, including as an aid worker for international disaster relief charity Shelterbox. He is a photojournalist and filmmaker, and wrote his first book, ‘Rodrigues: Paradise Lost?’ in 2009, and is a contributing author and featured explorer in 'The Modern Explorers', published in 2012.|
Tim van Berkel – Lead Researcher
|Scientific Director of the Heart of Borneo Project, Tim started his degree in Natural-Environmental Sciences in 2001 at Utrecht, where he developed his interests in the living natural world. Tim put effort into finding research abroad for his thesis, and subsequently found himself doing research on lions in Cameroon at Leiden University. Due to this research his interest in the conservation of endangered mammals and especially the human-wildlife conflict further increased. Tim graduated from the University of Exeter with an MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity in 2009.|
Lara Rogers – Assistant Lead Researcher
|Lara grew up in Hong Kong, although a concrete jungle she managed to find wildlife where ever she went. Lara worked at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre in Thailand and then went on to train and work as a Safari guide in South Africa. Lara has recently completed an MSc in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University studying the Bengal slow loris in the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia.|
Ian Blessley – Base Camp Manager and Medical Officer
|After commissioning from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in 2002 Ian joined the 1st Battalion, The Green Howards. Since leaving school in 1998 Ian has been on expeditions to Pakistan, Nepal, Kenya, Tanzania, Belize and Guatamala, and has driven from the UK to Gambia across the Sahara ian has successfully summited a 7000m and 600m peak in Pakistan and three 6000m Peaks, in Nepal and a 5000m Peak Tanzania. Ian also graduated from the University of Exeter with an MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity in 2009.|
Dan Sargison – Communications Officer
|Dan has been working professionally within IT for the past 9 years, and has experience in web design, problem solving, IT training, server management and teaching. Always up for a challenge, Dan likes to push himself and try new things which in the last few years have included getting into new sports like spearfishing, skydiving, bodyboarding, and climbing mountains for charity.|
James Harwood – Photographer and Assistant Cameraman
|After working as a mechanic for 15 years something had to give! James applied to the University College Falmouth to study Marine and Natural History Photography in 2008, finally following his dreams and ambitions of becoming a successful wildlife photographer. This Degree has given him the chance to pursue his two main passions, the Natural world and photography.|
Dale Mortiboys – Researcher
|Dale’s youth was spent chasing all manner of reptile across the New Forest whilst developing a strong love for nature. With his camera and notebook at the ready he has documented bats and herpetofauna on his travels across India, Fiji and Europe. Having graduated from Plymouth University in 2006 with a degree in Environmental Science, Dale made his hobbies full time employment as an Ecological consultant specialising in bats and herpetofauna. During the slower winter months Dale spends his time travelling, writing and sipping tea.|
Holli Kilburn – Researcher
|Holli has spent the last ten years working around the world as a carpenter and after a winter of discontent living in France she decided to throw herself into her true life’s passion – Conservation. She completed a Conservation Biology degree in 2008, gaining a 1st with honors and went on to study research techniques in the rainforest of Honduras. After a course in scientific tree-climbing in Panama, Holli hopes to pursue a career in canopy research.|
Russel Goodchild – Researcher
|Russell has spent as much time as possible outdoors on various adventures up mountains, in woods and on water. He has been to many parts of the world, including Indonesia, and has no plans to stop visiting more of it. Graduating in 2008 with a BSc from Plymouth university in Environmental science; Biodiversity and Conservation, he has spent time living in Italy, teaching in a school, volunteering with the RSPB and catching reptiles and amphibians for a consultancy, although his first love is spiders and insects.|
Dr. Carsten Bruhl & Dr. Jan Beck – Guest Researchers
|Carsten and Jan are specialist entomologists, focusing on ants and moths. They are linked to the German University of Landau and have years of experience working in the Malaysian and Brunei parts of Borneo. They intend to come out for a couple of weeks in January to collect specimen.|
|We will rely heavily on our Indonesiancounterparts to make this a successful and worthwhile expedition. We will therefore be supporting scientists from our sponsor, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, and students from our partner university, the University of Planagkaraya in Central Kalimantan. Of course, we will also be hiring a small army of local guides and boatmen to support us and teach us about their rainforest home.|
There are many different ways of studying and recording the flora and fauna of tropical forests. The variety of methods does not exist just because it is fun to employ different techniques. Not all species are detected by the same survey method. Walking line transects for example, is a good method to detect primates but it would not be very effective in detecting any species of rats and mice as these are not as easily visible and will be gone before you will have the chance to see them.
The following sections describe the different methods we used during the Murung Raya Expedition to survey the flora and fauna of the Joloi River headwaters. It will also list all the species we found. For some species additional background information is given.
Surveying Small Mammals with Humane Traps
Researcher - Tim van Berkel (Lead Scientist)
The aim of the small mammal trapping was to get an indication of the small mammal community assemblage and how this would differ for various habitats. Initially we tried to estimate density and habitat association but due to the small trapping effort this proved to be unsuccessful. Instead, relative abundance was calculated. We further wanted to see how trap types influenced trapping success for different species.
Traps were planned to be active for four weeks. Because two brown spiny rats (Maxomys rajah) were killed after the first seven trapping days by ants and termite infestations and time constraints it was decided not to continue trapping after the eighth trapping day, giving a total trapping effort of 664 trapping nights. Trapping was carried out from the 2-9 of January 2010.
Fifty four locally made Kasmin cage traps (3x3.5x9") and 38 Sherman foldable aluminium traps (6x6x19”) were placed along two parallel trap lines spaced 50m apart.
Traps were distributed along 23 stations, spaced twenty meters apart. Each station consisted of four traps, which were placed in a 10 meter radius. Traps were baited with peanut butter or a durian paste, which was refreshed every other day. As it is estimated that over 83% of Bornean mammals is at least partly arboreal (Mabberly, 1983) 18 traps were placed in trees and woody climbers up to a height 2m above the ground to capture arboreal species. To enhance trapping success traps were placed in places that are most likely to be used by small mammals. These are generally: along the edge and on top of logs; along paths across leaf litter or soil; near apparently active burrows and holes and in between the buttresses of large trees. All were placed in areas of relatively dense vegetation.
Traps were checked each day at dusk and dawn and rebaited where needed. Traps were traceable by means of a raffia string running from a central tree to each trap, something which increased operating speed considerably.
Captured animals were identified to species level and moved to self-made handling cones to allow body measurements to be taken. These included body mass, length from nose tip to tail base, tail length, left hind foot length, greatest ear length, gender, age class and ectoparasites.
Terrestrial Vertebrate Camera Trapping
Researcher - Tim van Berkel (Lead Scientist)
Camera traps were used to survey the diversity and abundance of the terrestrial mammal and bird communities in the study area. We further tested how different camera types would influence capture rate.
Camera trapping was conducted from mid-December 2010 till the beginning of February 2011. Twenty five digital camera traps (14x Cuddeback Capture, 9x Bushnell Trophy Cam, 1x Bolyguard SG560) were used during the expedition. The Cuddeback and Bolyguard cameras took photos and used an incandescent flash when light conditions required, while Bushnell cameras used infrared light instead. The Bushnells were set to record infrared and thus grey scale videos ranging from 20 to 60 seconds. Eighteen cameras were spaced at a 500m interval along 2 parallel trails of 4km length which were cut to facilitate the VES surveys and which themselves were spaced 500m apart (Map 1). These were 12 Cuddeback, the Bolyguard and five Bushnell cameras. The remaining seven cameras were placed randomly in suislidele locations, two of which were placed in the upper canopy for three and four days each.
The total trapping effort equalled 546 trapping days (camera traps x days), giving a mean active period of 22 days per camera, although camera activity ranged from 3-43 days. Each terrestrial camera was mounted on a tree approximately 30cm of the ground along animal trails to optimize capture rate and were operational 24h/day as long as it was functional. Cameras were checked approximately every two weeks to change memory cards and batteries. In some cases cameras ran out of power before they were checked. In those cases the last picture or video taken is used as the last time the camera was active.
Photo and video analysis
Animals were identified with the help of illustrations and descriptions of (Payne et al., 1985) and were updated to current and revised names and species. As both chevrotain species Tragulus napu and T. kanchil, both muntjacs Muntjacus atherodes and M. muntjak and both Maxomys rajah and M. surifer are morphologically similar and therefore difficult to distinguish, each couple is grouped and identified to genus level following (Azlan and Lading, 2006) to facilitate analysis. Photos and or videos taken from a single camera of the same species taken within 40 minutes of each other were considered to be the same individuals and were considered to be a single trapping event unless individual recognition proved possible.
The data from the two arboreal traps were not used in the analysis.
Studying the Reptiles and Amphibians Around Camp Foyle
Researchers - Dale Mortiboys and Holli Kilburn
The aims of the survey were to esslidelish which herpetofauna species are present in the study area.
The success of a study aimed at sampling the biodiversity of an area is heavily dependent on the choice of sampling methods. Traditionally, herpetofauna have been sampled through active collecting techniques, searching for the animals in environments where researchers expected them to be found. For example, Vanzolini and Papavero (1967) and Corn and Bury (1990) recommended detailed searches under fallen trunks and stones, in bromeliads, within the leaf litter, at the base of tree trunks, and at stream edges. Although this approach can provide a representative sample of the species present in a given area, it is clearly biased by the ability, experience and effort of the researcher and does not provide standardized estimates of abundance., Passive sampling techniques on the contrary, are effective at reducing researcher bias, but they generally focus on one subgroup of the total fauna (e.g., pitfall trapping is directed at leaf litter taxa and is unsuislidele for sampling large, agile, or arboreal species).
Different groups of amphibians and reptiles were sampled with varying efficiency by different methods following (Crump and Scott, 1994; Jaeger and Inger, 1994; Doan, 2003). Frogs were sampled according to Heyer et al. (1994) and Olson et al. (1997).
Pitfall traps with drift-fences are one of the most common herpetofauna sampling techniques (Heyer et al. 1994) and (Wilson et al. 1996).
Two pit-fall trap systems were used for 30 days. Each pit-fall trap system consisted of 7.8 litre buckets (25 cm depth and 20cm diameter) buried in the ground and set approximately 5m apart, with soft plastic drift fences with a height of 50 cm extended between them. In the first system the four buckets were put out in a line with the fence running through the middle of each bucket, or in the second system the buckets were laid out in a Y shape. One bucket was placed at the crossing while the other three were placed at the end of each fencing extension.
Due to availability it was not possible to acquire larger buckets, which are preferred over smaller ones as it will keep the larger species from escaping. Larger buckets are often considered to have a greater chance of success in capturing larger animals, e.g., large reptiles (Crosswhite et al., 1999; Cechin & Martins, 2000). Pitfall trapping is most effective at capturing leaf litter species (e.g. Bury & Corn, 1987; Greenberg et al., 1994; Enge, 2001), as well as some insectivorous arboreal species that descend to the leaf litter to forage (Crosswhite et al., 1999).
Pitfalls were checked once every morning and all frogs, reptiles and non-target species such as small mammals and invertebrates found in them were measured and released.
Standard nocturnal visual encounter surveys (VES, Heyer et al. 1994) using LED head torches were usually conducted between 1800-2200 hrs. We carried out 20 transects of 4 hours duration each, totalling a sampling effort of 80 hours.
Visual searching (in and on vegetation, between rocks along the stream, on the forest floor) was the main focus of these survey nights. A steady pace (av. 750m/h) was maintained. At four points along each transect there was an intense search of wet areas (usually streams/bogs/rivers) for 15 minutes to increase effectiveness for amphibian searches. VES has been found to yield an equal number of species as other active methods whilst recording more unique species (Pearman et al., 1995; Adams et al., 1998; Rocha et al., 2004).
Diurnal VES were carried out during sunny periods of the day between 0900-1200 or 1400-1600. This is the period when skinks are most active.
Amphibians and reptiles were measured with dial callipers to the nearest 0.1 mm snout to ventral length (SVL) and tail lengths separately),
Campbell and Christman (1982) and Bury and Raphael (1983) have suggested that active sampling and pitfall traps provide an effective combination for the study of herpetofauna communities.
A total of 37 reptiles and 30 frogs were encountered during the various surveys. Twenty four of the 30 frogs have never been recorded in the area and for some this means a significant increase in geographic range. Appendices 2 and 3 give a comprehensive list of the species encountered.
Studying the Inveretbrates of the Rainforest
Researcher - Rusty Goodchild (Entemologist)
The aim of the invertebrate sampling was to gain an accurate idea of what invertebrate species were present in this area as well as seeing if any new undescribed species were present.
Knowing in advance there would be significant quantities of invertebrate organisms only certain groups were being surveyed. At the request of Dr Merlijn Jocke the arachnid orders thelyphonida and amblypygi, the arachnid sub-order cyphophthalmi from the order opiliones, and the insect families cerambycidae and elateridae were included. These groups will further be referred to as the BINCO 5. Based on my own knowledge and experience aranae (spiders) were also included.
We investigate how different species diversity and community composition are compared to northern Borneo sites. This will be particularly important to judge the value of these regions for biodiversity conservation, e.g. in the context of the proposed and ratified, trinational Heart of Borneo conservation area.
We sampled data on the species composition of nocturnal Lepidoptera and leaf litter ants from representative habitats.
Canopy Access - Epiphytes and Herpetofauna Surveys
Researcher - Holli Kilburn
Very little high arboreal survey work has been conducted in Kalimantan Borneo. Reptiles and amphibians are very adapslidele animals with frogs especially occupying a very wide range of ecological niches from below ground to high canopy and within a large variety of habitats. In order to gain a more complete insight into the full range of species found in the area it was important to try and expand the research to encompass as much varied habitat as possible. The purpose of the high arboreal work was to give a more three dimensional insight into the ecology of the area, observe as wide a range of ecological niches as possible and also to potentially expand the knowledge of individual species ecological niches.
The same seven trees mentioned above were also surveyed for their vascular epiphyte populations. A log of the epiphyte species was compiled and the relative abundance of the epiphyte population was assessed using the DAFOR scale.
Searching for Proof of Hybrod Gibbons in the Area
Researcher - Lara Rogers (Assistant Lead Scientist)
A sslidele hybrid population of the parent species Hylobates muelleri and H. albibarbis is known to be resident in the region East of the study area. This species is estimated to be in existence for over 10.000 years. We aimed to investigate the Joloi River banks for presence of the hybrid. Occurrence here could extend the known geographic range of the hybrid from an estimated 3,500 km2 to approximately 10,000 km2.The western boundary of its geographical range is now believed to be the Sungai Busang.
Five suislidele research sites spread up from the Mohot and Joloi Rivers were chosen. Two groups of three observers were stationed at two suislidele listening posts either side of the rivers by 05:00h, following the methods of Brockelman and Ali, 1987; Brockelman and Srikosmatara, 1993 and Cheyne et al, 2007.
Gibbon pairs sing duets most mornings for the purposes of maintaining pair-bonds and defining each pair’s territory (Cowlishaw, 1992). Gibbon calls are species specific, differences between Hylobates albibarbis and the hybrid H. albibarbis x H. muelleri are easily distinguished (Mather 1992, Chivers pers. comm.). Observers will record the gibbon species calling (H. albibarbis or H. albibarbis x H. muelleri), direction of each calling group heard, the time and estimated distance of the call to enable triangulation of group locations and the start and end time of each calling bout. This was repeated for two consecutive days to ensure that the majority groups within hearing distance were heard singing at least once.
Several family groups of H. albibarbis were recorded to be present in the area along the main base camp along the Mohot River. The hybrid gibbon at this research site was not recorded. A single group of hybrid gibbons was heard calling at the last research site of the Joloi River, on the eastern side and right at the navigable end of the river. This group was heard calling amidst several groups of H. albibarbis.
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