Friday, October 5, 2007

Studying Ecology of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

On a fine Thursday afternoon, "ecologists-to-be" from our ecology module had a field trip to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR). Thanks to Siva for preparing this trip, though I did not see him throughout, he was somewhere else with another group I think.

Bukit Timah NR though has plant species more than even the whole of North America which deserved to be celebrated, it is also named as a patient under intensive care because of many reasons, mainly due to human impacts like fragmentation, edge effects etc. This was the topic of our graded essay at the end of the trip which there was not enough time to write down all I wanted, sigh.

Climbing up the steep slopes can also be a joyful thing. Look at the cheery smile from Su Wen.

Panting, up we go to higher grounds where we can find Shorea trees which is significant of lowland evergreen rainforest or coastal hill dipterocarp forest. People might have the misconception that BTNR has 100% primary forest. This is wrong, there is now only about 40% fragments of primary forest in the BTNR and the rest is secondary forest. BTNR was literally disturbed in many ways before and now.

I will always remember to watch out for this rock that probably no usual passerby will peer into the forest and ask why. Can you see a white circular patch on the rock?

I learnt about this when Dr Wang YC from Geography Department shared it with us during our Terrestrial and Coastal Environments module field trip. Mosses on the rocks need light to survive and grow on. The whitish patch might show that they are no moss there. Why?? Reason might be because a smaller rock beside it might have just fallen away or that this big rock was slightly shifted from the ground. Over time, let's watch the covering of moss back to the rock.

Back from rocks to trees. This is Shorea tree (Shorea curtisii) which is an emergent tree. From aerial photos, their canopies look like caulifowers with slightly greyish shades. They grow very tall in BTNR and also have wing-structures on their seeds for better wind dispersals. Are you reminded of it from your primary or secondary school science classes?

Canopy of Shorea from the ground bottom up level.

And everyone of got an A3 map of BTNR to shade the different boundaries and human interventions around the area to better understand how fragmented is our precious rainforest. So small yet highly impacted.

Update: Nature reserves may be reunited by eco-passage on Straits Time 11 Oct 07

I'm not too sure if this is going to be effective, but remember of the concept of biogeography, or put it simply, think about why a flying insect stuck in your bedroom won't escape by itself though you open the window ledge, hoping it will get out.

A study from a Geography honours student (shared with us by Prof Lu Xi Xi from Geography Department) on the trails in BTNR shows 51 big and small trails of over 8 kms within the reserve. The density of trails was so bad that it was a 26 km per km square. Just imagine!

There was another paper written by Chatterjea K., 2007 studying the effects of trails in BTNR this year, as recommended by Siva. That was also very insightful.

Chatterjea K. (2007) Assessment and demarcation of trail degradation in a nature reserve, using GIS: case of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Land Degradation and Develop., 18: 1–19.

Abstract here.

The orange highlighted portion of BKE shows how Bukit Timah NR was fragmented away from the larger Central Catchment area, and this caused a lot of roadkills when animals try to cross over.

Glad National Parks Board is doing something, which is closures of small trails.

Big trees within the forest sometimes have huge buttress roots. To prevent damage from trails, boardwalks were built across some of it. Nice.

Thanks to our teaching assistant, Stanley, we learnt quite a lot about the ecology in BTNR. And many of the students are not concentrating in Biology. What they learn now will be of great impact as someone might turn out to be an influential person in Singapore making important decisions to conserve nature.

I discovered something along the way, some red labels of the paths on the side of the trails, slightly covered by leaf litters.

These must be a bit historical I guess, judging from how much it has worn out.

More plants and descriptions below :-) Happy reading.

Leaf litter plant.

Terentang tree.

Leaves of Terentang seedlings.

Update: These "Terentang seedlings" are obviously something else(Sapotaceae/Fagaceae/Lauraceae). The "ears" of Terentang are even more pronounced in the seedlings/saplings and clasping twigs, making the leaves look sessile.

Thanks MS!

Sepui, Red Dhup tree. This is an uncommon tree.

At the end of the trip, as mentioned, we had a essay test which was tiring as writing very fast is not my cup of tea. Need to organise thoughts as well. I'm really glad Siva made everyone understood all the challenges of this tiny patch of remaining primary forest in Singapore. A heritage we have to treasure.

There are other challenges like do we need to have human intervention in order to ensure the survival of forest trees with big fruits as larger-beak birds like hornbills are extinct in BTNR as dispersers. Many many questions.

Next time when you visit BTNR, let's appreciate it and look at it with a new perspective.


Sivasothi said...

Well done Kok Sheng. I am considering of making next year's class make a blog post each! Shorter posts of course.

koksheng said...

that's a good idea Siva! it will also encourage them to have a feel of blogging and start one themselves.

MS said...

Hi there. Very well written account of BTNR. However, the "Terentang seedlings" are obviously something else (Sapotaceae/Fagaceae/Lauraceae). The "ears" of Terentang are even more pronounced in the seedlings/saplings and clasping twigs, making the leaves look sessile.

Sivasothi said...

The "other paper" is Chatterjea K., 2007. Assessment and demarcation of trail degradation in a nature reserve, using GIS: case of Bukit
Timah Nature Reserve. Land Degradation and Develop., 18: 1–19. Abstract here.

Sivasothi said...

I will be posting a link to this from the module blog.

koksheng said...

Thanks Siva for the update on paper and also linking from module blog.

Great! Thanks MS for the correction on the "Terentang seedlings". Excited to find your blog too. Hope you don't mind if I post a link of your blog to mine


Siyang said...

Haha, that sounds like fun. But im already over with this module already lol.

Maybe the ranger likes to sit on that rock often thats why no mosses have invaded that part. heh...

koksheng said...


SJ said...

Hiya Kok Sheng, too bad I didnt go through ecology modules, looks fun... tried crossing over to NUS for BioD and ecology modules but was not allowed due to pre-requistics...haiz... But I was lucky to land myself another research project along side my final year project with Dr Chatterjea (the one Siva mentioned - who wrote the article on BTNR), so I guess it compensated. Ha.. Anyway, if you need help for your research, let me know. I'm itching for research projects again... two for my final year aint enough to curb my hunger. Heh..

koksheng said...

Nice that you got to work with Dr Chatterjea. Yeap I would need help for my project. Look out for 23-25 Dec. Thanks for your help :-)

Tee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
koksheng said...

Dear Tee, Please feel free to link to this webpage for nature-related posts.

Check out for nature activities in Singapore.

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