Mapping ancient plant lineages across Brunei’s forest types
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Mapping ancient plant lineages across Brunei’s forest types

Dr. Serban Proches from South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal has been spending his 2013 sabbatical at UBD, working on a collaborative project with Drs. Rahayu Sukri and David Marshall of FoS. The project investigates the proportional representation of ancient plant lineages across several forest types (mixed dipterocarp, peat swamp, kerangas, mangroves, together with some of their subtypes and transitional types). Indeed, Brunei is the ideal place to study a wide variety of lowland tropical forest systems, the diversity of which is not inhibited by low temperatures of latitudinal or altitudinal nature.

While the plant diversity of each forest type is remarkable, and major differences in the presence or absence of plant types across forest types are visible to the naked eye, the research of Dr. Proches and his collaborators focuses on the presence of major and ancient plant groupings, the representation of which is surprisingly similar across systems. One subclass of angiosperm plants, the Rosidae (including trees as diverse as dipterocarps, ‘rhu’ trees of the family Casuarinaceae, most mangrove trees, and many others), is dominant across all forest types, both in terms of species numbers and proportional cover, followed in all cases by a second angiosperm subclass, the Asteridae.

The physico-chemical factors responsible for the differential filtering of other minor lineages, such as gymnosperms, ferns, and other angiosperms, in the plots surveyed, will be investigated in 2014 by final-year student Salwana Jaffar.  The understanding of these factors is critical in putting together a bigger picture of plant diversity, beyond the species level.

Dr Proches has already conducted similar research in southern Africa, across various vegetation types dominated by grasses and shrubs. However, he hopes that his current work in Brunei, where rainfall and temperature are not very important as limiting factors, will point out different explanations for the deep structuring of plant diversity.

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