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Biological Diversity Conservation

STATUS OF CONSERVATION OF BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY IN MALAYSIA

Over the period 1970 to 1992, natural forest in the whole of Malaysia was reduced by 19.3 percent, mainly in conversion to the agricultural crops, oil palm and rubber. The forests cleared, with irreversible loss of biological diversity, were predominantly lowland dipterocarp forests and, to a lesser extent, swamp forests, both peat and freshwater, and mangrove forests. Very little of the lowland dipterocarp forests, the largest reservoir of genetic variation of terrestrial flora and fauna, remain and these require total protection, as do the remaining swamp and mangrove forests. Loss of these habitats still continues as most development plans relegate the notion of conservation to low priority status.

The genetic base of our important agricultural crops is narrow. Malaysia relies on exotic germplasm, especially of rubber, oil palm, cocoa and pepper, for crop improvement. Further narrowing of the genetic base would lead to stagnation in the development of these commodity crops as well as require increased vigilance against pests and diseases.

In-situ Conservation

To protect and conserve the diversity of biological species in Malaysia, a number of in-situ measures have been instituted. These, to maintain plants and animals in their original habitats, have to take into consideration as many representative natural ecological habitats as possible to sustain breeding populations of flora and fauna.

The network of protected areas on land, as of 1992, includes 2.12 million hectares of National and State Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Turtle Sanctuaries and Wildlife Reserves. Another 3.43 million hectares of natural forest within the Permanent Forest Estate of 14.28 million hectares are protected as water catchment areas. The network of Virgin Jungle Reserves in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah protect a limited range of biological diversity in small forested areas as gene pools within larger (usually commercial) forest reserves or agricultural areas.

By the end of 1994, the surrounding marine waters of 38 offshore islands in Peninsular Malaysia and Labuan had been gazetted as marine parks. National Park in Sarawak, three in Sabah and one state park in Terengganu protect coastal and marine ecosystems.

These conservation efforts are inadequate for a number of reasons: (i) Several important habitats are under-represented. For example, wetlands such as mangrove forests, peat swamps and freshwater swamps are not adequately protected. Apart from being important as resting places for migratory birds, in regulating the hydrological regime, and in supporting fisheries, these habitats also support some unique flora and fauna because of their distinctive characteristics at the interface of terrestrial and aquatic systems. Limestone and quartz hills are other examples of unprotected habitats. (ii) Conservation efforts of individual species are targeted towards large animals, and to some extent birds. There is little emphasis on the conservation of individual species of plants, insects or fish (marine and freshwater). This is due mainly to the lack of adequate knowledge. (iii) Conservation is given low priority in existing land- use policies resulting in competition for land utilisation. (iv) The establishment of marine parks in Peninsular Malaysia focuses on aquatic considerations. Additional attention must be accorded to the adjoining terrestrial components as these too, if unduly disturbed, will have negative impacts on the marine ecosystem. (v) Common marine and terrestrial biological resources (e.g. in transboundary areas) lack adequate regional and international cooperation in their conservation and management. (vi) Efforts at conservation of landraces of indigenous plant species such as fruits and rice are inadequate, and these landraces are being eroded at a rapid rate.

Ex-situ Conservation

Ex-situ conservation maintains species outside their original habitats in facilities such as arboreta, zoological gardens, seed genebanksOverview Malaysia's location in the humid tropics provides a favourable climate to support rich and diverse life forms, from the microscopic organisms such as bacteria and plankton to macroscopic species such as fishes, birds and mammals. 2. Within the terrestrial ecosystems, forests are the major repository of biological diversity. Over 90 percent of terrestrial biological species in Malaysia occur within natural forests. In comparison, agricultural land, which supports a number of flora and fauna with commercia l values, is characterised by low species diversity. 3. Aquatic ecosystems include both freshwater and marine environments. Coral reefs and coastal mangroves have been identified as very important in terms of biological diversity. These are habitats which support diverse forms of life and are very productive. 4. , in vitro genebanks and field genebanks. Seed genebanks are considered safe and cost. Field and in vitro genebanks are particularly useful for species with seeds that are difficult to store.

Ex-situ conservation makes it easier for scientists to access, study, distribute and use plant genetic resources.

EXAMPLES OF EX-SITU CONSERVATION IN MALAYSIA

ARBORETA - medicinal plants fruit trees timber species ornamentals
SEED GENEBANKS - rice vegetables
FIELD GENEBANKS - rubber oil palm cocoa fruit trees coconut orchid sweet potato
IN VITRO GENEBANKS - cassava timber species
CAPTIVE BREEDING CENTRES - Sumatran rhinoceros seladang sambar deer
REHABILITATION CENTRES - orang-utan
TURTLE SANCTUARIES - marine turtle
TURTLE HATCHERIES - river terrapin marine turtle

Currently, ex-situ conservation of plants, including timber species, is solely in arboreta and small collection centres. Animals are being maintained in zoos, rehabilitation centres and captive breeding centres. Collections of specific microorganisms are deposited in univ ersities and research institutions.

EXAMPLES OF EX-SITU COLLECTION CENTRES IN MALAYSIA BY STATE

Johor : Research Station, Palm Oil Research Institute Malaysia, Kluang
Malacca : Zoo, Air Keroh
Penang : Botanic Gardens Rice Genebank, Malaysian Agricultural Research & Development Institute, Seberang Perai
Perak : Terrapin Hatchery, Bota Kanan
Sabah : Agriculture Research Station, Ulu Dusun Arboretum, Forest Research Centre, Sepilok Orang- Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Sepilok Orchid Centre and Agriculture Research Station, Tenom Sabah Parks Orchid Garden, Poring
Sarawak : Botanical Research Centre, Semengoh Sungai Sebiew Agricultural Park, Bintulu Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, Semengoh
Selangor : Arboreta, Forest Research Institute Malaysia, Kepong Bukit Cahaya Agricultural Park, Shah Alam Captive Breeding Station, Sungai Dusun Experimental Station, Rubber Research Institute Malaysia, Sungai Buloh Medicinal Plant Garden, Universiti Pertanian Malaysia, Serdang Orchid Collection, Malaysian Agricultural Research & Development Institute, Serdang Taman Pantun, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi Zoo Negara, Ulu Kelang
Federal Territory : Rimba Ilmu, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur
Terengganu : Turtle Sanctuary, Rantau Abang

Whilst there are a number of ex-situ plant collection centres distributed around the country, there is an urgent need for a national botanical garden.

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