External Activity: #SGSTEM Talk & Trivia by Dr Shawn Lum

Hello! I participated in #SGSTEM Talk & Trivia, a sharing by Dr Shawn Lum. He shared with us his experiences of studying the forest at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. From his experiences, he shared that there has been much habitat loss in Singapore which has led to species loss of multiple species. For example, plants, birds, mammals, Saproxylic beetles and bees are a few of the many animals that are threatened because of land reclamation and development which resulted in the loss of their habitats. He noticed that there was a loss of seed dispersers but also loss of seed predators. However, there are a couple of good signs, for example the return of wild boars, which started turning up in catchment areas in the 1990s and the spread was facilitated by the spread of the green corridors. The spread seems to coincide with the increased network of green corridors.

Which most likely explains why I have sighted many wild boars around Pasir Ris Park haha!

Next, he talked about the impacts of habitat fragmentation on forest function, causing forests to decay further. However, it is fortunate that NParks has started a forest restoration action plan. Which seeks to strengthen the resilience of our native rainforests by restoring ecological processes, and enhancing the biodiversity and ecological connectivity in these areas. This will improve the habitats for native biodiversity.

Wrapping it up, he shared with us ways in which we can restore habitats in Singapore. He emphasised that forest function is key in creating a resilient forest and forest fragments should be reduced as much as possible to give animals the ability to  roam in their habitat. Decomposition, nutrient cycling, CO2 uptake and pollination dispersal are also essential in helping to rebuild our forests. There also needs to be adequate root zone symbioses to allow for the longevity of these plants, thus allowing secondary forests to grow. His years of research showed that there was slow recovery of secondary tropical forest in SEA and greater attention should be raised about the issue of the degradation of habitats. Last but not least, he shared with us that macaques, civets and squirrels are primary agents of seed dispersal.

Dr Shawn Lum joined the Asian School of the Environment in January 2016 after spending more than twenty years as a Lecturer at the National Institute of Education. He joined NIE upon completion of his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. Shawn’s teaching has centered upon plant diversity, forest ecology, and conservation. In addition to his teaching and academic work, he works closely with local environment and nature-related agencies and is also active in nature conservation NGOs and civil society.

Shawn’s principal research interest is in the dynamics of tropical forest fragments. The bulk of his field time has focused on the long-term dynamics of the forest of the Bukit Timah Nature – changes to the primary forest over time, the recovery of the secondary forest, and the fate of trees that typically depend on large vertebrates (long extinct in Singapore) for dispersal. With colleagues, Shawn was also involved in work on mono-dominant peat swamp forests in northwest Borneo, and on local and regional scale patterns of population genetic diversity in Southeast Asian tree communities.

I was drawn to what will be discussed in the event and that is the things that we as Singapore can do to restore habitats and prevent the further loss of species in Singapore. Additionally, i felt that Dr Lum’s expertise on biodiversity and his years of research in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve would help develop my understanding of biodiversity in Singapore and what are the different factors that are threatening the health of Singapore’s ecosystem.

I learnt that re-establishing a new forest is a tedious and lengthy process which requires years upon years of dedication, the right environmental factors, etc. for secondary forests to flourish. Planting trees does not guarantee that the forest will thrive and is fully self sustaining. One example of this is the Singapore Botanic Gardens. There is no growth or seed dispersal and it cannot sustain itself. Another thing that I have learnt is that in order to restore tropical forests, we need three primary agents of seed dispersal, the macaque, civets and squirrels.

I learnt that human-biodiversity is a major conflicting interest in Singapore. In order to spur on economic growth and allow the country to be prosperous, the government needs to demolish a number of habitats, which results in the loss of some species. Acquiring a balance of both is vital, and more attention is needed to restore habitats in Singapore.

I would like to visit a primary rainforest. Hopefully in the future I would be able to experience jungle walking or kayaking in the rivers. I love being absorbed into nature, breathing in the fresh air while walking and also hearing numerous rainforest sounds!!

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