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Saw Leng Guan Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM)1 Kepong, Kuala Lumpur 52109, Malaysia INTRODUCTION Malaysia has one of the most complex tropical rainforest ecosystems in the world. The country as a whole has a tropical maritime climate. It is also a relatively small country, and with a land area of only about 33 million ha, is about the size of the British Isles. However, the combination of its warm equatorial climate and the variation of its geographical, edaphic and climatic features has endowed Malaysia with extremely rich plant and animal life forms. The country is still predominantly forested with about 59% of its land area under forest cover. This is in spite of the fact that, in recent years, Malaysia has lost some of its forest to agricultural development and in unmanaged exploitation for timber. This article concentrates on the indigenous forest genetic resources in Malaysia, on their diversity, present status and conservation. THE HIGH DIVERSITY OF THE FLORA IN MALAYSIA The flora of Malaysia is extremely rich and is conservatively estimated to comprise about 12,500 species of seed plants (angiosperms and gymnosperms). Malaya (Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore) has about 7,900 species and 1,500 genera of seed plants (Whitmore, 1973), while Borneo (including the political boundaries of East Malaysia [Sabah and Sarawak], Brunei and Kalimantan), is estimated to have about 9,000 species (Merrill, 1921). The two regions also have a high number of endemic species. In Malaya, for example, where the flora is better known, Ng et al (1990) found that 746 species out of 2,830 tree species (i.e. 26.4%) are endemic. In herbaceous plants, however, Kiew (1990a) is of the opinion that the level of endemism is considerably higher. Although the figure for all herbs cannot be calculated as taxonomic studies are still incomplete, Kiew (1990a) gives some estimates of endemism in large genera: more than 40 species in Sonerila (Melastomataceae), Argostemma (Rubiaceae), Didymocarpus (Gesneriaceae), Begonia (Begoniaceae); the proportion of endemics in these genera thus ranges from 87% to 96%. It has been estimated that about 50% of the plants of Borneo are endemic. Van Steenis (1950), comparing the endemic genera of the South-East Asian region, listed Borneo as having the highest number of endemic genera (see Table 1). Lamb (1990) estimated that at least 40% of the Bornean orchids are endemic. He further estimated that there are about 3,000 species of orchids in Borneo, estimated to constitute 10% of the world's orchid flora. This level of high endemism in Borneo can be further substantiated by some other large genera already revised under the Flora Malesiana project. For example in the family Dipterocarpaceae (Ashton, 1982), 36% of the 41 Dipterocarpus species known in Borneo, are
endemic. The level of endemism is even higher in the larger genera of the family Ericaceae (Sleumer. Anacardiaceae. and 64% of the 127 species in Shorea.Lowland dipterocarp forest . 12 spp. Table 1. The major forest ecosystems of Malaysia (Wyatt-Smith 1963. 1991). breadfruit (Artocarpus. in Pasoh Forest Reserve with a lowland dipterocarp forest. Climatic Climax Forest Tropical evergreen lowland rainforest .). Moraceae. Different forest types can also develop as a result changing geology.) and rambutan (Nephelium. 92% of the 41 species in Diplycosia and 92% of the 39 species in Vaccinium. Table 2.). Guttiferae. edaphic factors and the extant plant community.Upper hill dipterocarp forest Tropical lower montane rainforest Tropical upper montane rainforest Lower subalpine vegetation Semi-evergreen seasonal forest Forest Types related to edaphic factors Heath (or Kerangas/Kerapah) forest Forest in limestone areas Forest over ultramafic outcrops . Sapindaceae. The evolution of these ecosystems are thought to be the result of three inter-relating factors: climate. The climate of Malaysia is mainly influenced by elevation (and thus temperature) and rainfall. The forest ecosystems of Malaysia are described in a recently published vegetation map of the Malaysian region (Whitmore 1984).). 820 species in 294 genera and 78 families were enumerated from a 50 ha plot of all trees ≥ 1 cm diameter at breast height (Kochummen et al. 5 spp. mangosteen (Garcinia. 52% of the 42 species in Hopea. elevation being the main factor. 1990).Hill dipterocarp forest . 1950) Area Borneo Malay Peninsula Philippines Sumatra Number of endemic genera 59 41 33 17 The richness of the flora is further underlined in some studies made in recent years. The greatest variation both regarding plants and animals. Generic endemism in the region surrounding Malaysia (van Steenis. 1966): 82% of the 34 species in Rhododendron. 13 spp. For example. 65% of the 35 species in Vatica. is found in the tropical evergreen lowland rainforest. 12 spp. Table 2 lists the major forest ecosystems in Malaysia. Withmore 1985). The plot contained 76 species of trees known to bear edible fruit (Saw et al. Especially diverse were the wild species of mango (Mangifera.
is classed as protection forest. wildlife conservation areas and amenity areas).1 1. The rest of area of PFE.0 Forest Oil Palm Rubber Rice Cocoa Coconut Others Total Of this total forested area. about 70% of the land area is under natural forest. the terrain is too difficult for timber extraction or the forest cover is considered essential to safeguard the environment (e. In Peninsular Malaysia. in these areas. Much of this forested area is in East Malaysia. Table 3.4 2.4 0. in which the area is managed mainly for timber production on a sustained yield basis. Table 3 lists the major land-use patterns in the country.9 25.2 0. about 47% of the total land area was estimated to be forested in 1990 (see Table 4).g.0 Total Area % 59.1 6. water catchment areas. in accordance with the National Forestry Policy..09 million ha is defined as productive forest. provision is made to define the specific uses of these forested lands. This constitutes about 59% of the total land area. which has a higher population and a higher degree of development.6 0.8 1.Beach vegetation Mangrove forest Brackish-water forest Peat swamp forest Fresh-water swamp forest Seasonal swamp forest THE PRESENT STATUS OF FOREST RESOURCES IN MALAYSIA Malaysia is still predominantly forested and about 19. The table shows that there is still a substantial amount of land under natural forest cover. the PFE includes forested areas earmarked for forestry activities only.3 8.5 million ha has been gazetted as Permanent Forest Estate (PFE). Within its boundaries. Forested areas by region in Malaysia (area expressed in 1000 ha) Sabah1 Sarawak2 Peninsula3 Total . Under the Malaysian National Forestry Act of 1984. Table 4. The State of Sarawak at present has the largest area under natural forest cover. Major landuse patterns in Malaysia (Anon. 1991) Land-use Area (million ha) 19. About 9. virgin jungle reserves. an area of about 3.4 million ha of the country were still under natural forest cover in 1990 (Anon.65 million ha. Basically.4 5.1 100. an area of 12. wildlife sanctuaries and state forests.5 1. 1991). Forested areas outside the PFE include national parks.8 0.4 33.
Forestry in Malaysia.Malaysia National/State Park Wildlife Sanctuaries Permanent Forest Estate .1 million ha of National/State Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. gazetted by either National or State laws. 3 Anon.3 940 6280 13160 47. Malaysia. * This figure constitutes part of the Wildlife Sanctuary areas of Peninsular Malaysia currently being gazetted into State Parks.7 437 153 4750 18 786 329 12595 106 143 5767 19479 32929 59. Forestry in Sarawak. Table 5. (1988). under the category of State Parks or Wildlife Sanctuaries (see Table 5). In total. Proposed totally protected areas of Malaysia (areas expressed in 1000 ha) Sarawak1 State Park Wildlife Sanctuary Total 1 Peninsula Malaysia 93* 93 Total 673 234 907 580 234 814 Nyui (1991). Taman Negara.Protected Areas for Wildlife State Forest Total Forested Area Total Land Area Percentage Forested with region 245 3348 88 143 888 4483 7371 60. Most of the major forest types are covered by the present park system in the country. Ministry of Primary Industry. Malaysia. For. PRESENT STATUS OF ECOSYSTEM CONSERVATION IN MALAYSIA Under the existing laws and regulations in the country. (1990). Malaysia has about 1. is situated right in the centre of Peninsula Malaysia.8 104 176 4497 3939 8716 12398 70.1 Source: 1 Anon. this category includes an additional 249. 2 Anon. Annual Report of the Sabah Forest Department.000 ha of protected primary forest. Kuching. The largest park. . A second category of Protected Areas is found within the gazetted PFE: Virgin Jungle Reserves and protected areas for wildlife conservation. In addition to the above. Dept. both plant and animal species found in National and State Parks and in Wildlife Sanctuaries.000 ha of primary forest land is being proposed for conservation in Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia. In total. and comprises an area of 437.Virgin Jungle Reserve . are totally protected from human intervention.340 ha of primary forest. The latter are found only in Sabah (see Table 4). (1991). Sarawak. another 907.
there is no legal protection of forests growing on limestone hills. with some exceptions such as the one for Mount Kinabalu National Park compiled by Beaman & Beaman (1990). Similarly. which has not been botanically well explored. large ares under forest cover. The biggest threat to this habitat is quarrying of the stone for cement and aggregate materials for building and road construction. At present. In order to incorporate genetic concerns into forest management. such use can in most cases be made compatible with the conservation of genetic resources of the species harvested. These areas contain a large reservoir of genetic resources. . which have been subject to outside influences. through appropriate forest management prescriptions and adequate monitoring and control of logging operations. A few such hills are sporadically found within the National and State Park system. to conserve the characteristic flora and fauna of this region. there is a need to document available resources as well as their occurrence. there are also no strictly protected areas for mangrove swamps. Yet other examples for urgent attention include the areas of the Merurong Plateau. The Belum Forest Reserve in North Perak bordering with Thailand is an area.178. 1991b). Gaps are also found in the conservation of the heath forests of Sarawak.6 % of the total land area of the country. This is about 6. and unmanaged logging activities. the peat swamp forests of South Malaya. and a few occur in forest reserves (Kiew. this does not mean that all ecosystems in Malaysia are completely protected under the present system. the peat swamp vegetation in the Binio basin. which are still rather extensive.000 ha (5% of the total area under this vegetation type) be conserved within National Parks. For example. on its own. are not presently protected. however. adequate checklists of the flora found in protected areas and forests are not available in Malaysia. and which are not under protected status. The peat swamp forests of Selangor have almost completely disappeared mainly due to forest conversion into agriculture. Under the present park system. in Peninsular Malaysia there is a need to create another park in the north. PRESENTLY INADEQUATELY CONSERVED FOREST ECOSYSTEMS Although the total area protected appears to be large. Further research in subjects such as taxonomy is also needed. but which is believed to contain a rich flora.000 ha. occur on State lands. and the Bungoh range (Bruenig 1991). FOREST MANAGEMENT The present system of strictly protected areas is.If the proposed protected ares are included. Ong & Gong (1991) have proposed that an area of about 30. Although some of these forest will be used predominantly for production of timber. The majority of such hills. species and the genetic variation at the intra-specific level. There is thus a need to put up some form of protection also for this habitat. The gazetted PFE includes additional. Further. inadequate to conserve the variation of ecosystems. including the whole mangrove ecosystems from the freshwater gradation of the landward side into the saltwater mangroves closer to the sea. totals some 2. the total area of primary forest under various degrees of strict protection.
However. Sustainable forest management is the key to conservation. total protection of all resources will not be possible. unsustainable harvesting and changes in land use. . sustainable utilization. species and genetic resources. There is therefore an urgent need to develop management plans which ensure that unsustainable use does not erode. economic or genetic resources point of view. are threatening the resources. and within the framework of which genetic resource conservation can be rendered compatible with presentday.CONCLUSION The forest resources in Malaysia are at this point still relatively intact. nor desirable from a social. In a developing country like Malaysia. threaten or destroy unique ecosystems.
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