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Around 200 species new to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve listed during comprehensive survey, with more than 40 species potentially new to Singapore

25 May 2019

In spite of new discoveries, findings also serve as a reminder about the fragility of the nature reserve
- Nature conservation and biodiversity management to be augmented with the aid of technology
- Winners for the Singapore Garden Photographer of the Year 2019 announced

25 May 2019 – The National Parks Board (NParks) today announced that around 200 species new to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve were listed during a comprehensive survey. Among them, at least 30 species of spiders and 10 species of beetles are potentially new to Singapore. Researchers also found records of more than 160 plant species which were not previously listed in the Reserve. These plant records were collected during the comprehensive survey, as well as during previous surveys conducted by researchers from the Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore, NParks and by expert enthusiasts.

A notable illustration of the importance of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is the first record of the Yellow-striped Caecilian, a very rare amphibian, since 1989. This record highlights the resilience of the species and indicates the sustainable condition of hill streams within the Reserve.

Another notable finding from the survey showed that the closure of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve for restoration works over two years had given the rainforest an opportunity to recover. Researchers found that erosion rates were lowered and soil compaction was reduced.

The findings from the survey contribute to the increasing scientific value of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, and show that the Reserve should continue to be safeguarded. In spite of its small size, the Reserve is home to a diverse array of biodiversity, with new species continually being discovered. At 163 hectares in size, the Nature Reserve is only 0.23% the size of Singapore, but is home to 55% of the native plant species and 84% of native amphibian species found here.

The survey findings have now been published in a special issue of The Gardens’ Bulletin Singapore. An opportunity to conduct the survey, which was first proposed in 2014, came about when the Reserve was closed for two years for restoration works and sensitive enhancements. The survey involved more than 300 researchers and volunteers, and was supported by HSBC through the Garden City Fund. It was the first comprehensi¬≠ve survey of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in 20 years. The previous major survey was carried out between 1993 and 1997.

While there have been many new species listings, many of them were not found in large numbers. This finding reflects the fragility of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, and the need to strengthen the conservation and resilience of the Reserve. In this regard, NParks has increased the number of buffer parks around Bukit Timah Nature Reserve as well as the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Rifle Range Nature Park will be completed in 2020, and together with the seven other nature parks around the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature Reserves, will make the Reserves more resilient against increasing urbanisation and the impacts of climate change.

NParks has also enhanced ecological connectivity between the Nature Reserves and our parks and gardens, as well as carried out habitat enhancement and species recovery programmes to enhance their resilience. NParks’ conservation efforts are stakeholder-based, and help build communities of stewards for Singapore’s natural heritage.

NParks’ Forest Restoration Action Plan, for example, is implemented with the help of the community to restore disturbed patches within the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and the surrounding buffer parks. Some 250,000 native trees and shrubs will be planted in these disturbed patches over the next 10 years. NParks is also working closely with the community to restore the Rail Corridor with native species. The Rail Corridor is one of the potential habitat links between the Nature Reserve and other forest patches. With these additional restoration efforts, the potential for forest-dependent species to return to Singapore’s forests will be increased.

Taking nature conservation and biodiversity management to the next level with the aid of technology

As we discover new species in Singapore and continue to safeguard our biodiversity, NParks will use a range of modern technology to add to the relevance and accuracy of biodiversity surveys on land and in water, as part of NParks’ five-year digitalisation roadmap.

New survey techniques can improve data collection, and at the same time reduce impacts on wildlife. For example, night vision equipment employing thermal imaging can be used to observe animals in their natural habitat without disturbing them by the conventional use of spotlights. These methods also have a much better detection rate, especially for fauna which may be masked by dense vegetation.

Ultrasonic bat detectors are already in use to detect and identify bats, which is otherwise very challenging in the dark. In future, these bat detectors will be complemented by other acoustic sensors which will remotely monitor the calls of birds, frogs, reptiles and mammals in the forest, and be able to distinguish between different species, and even assess the number of individuals of a particular species in the immediate vicinity. Marine acoustic sensors will also be used to monitor marine species, including dolphins, in the water.

Drones will be deployed to take aerial images of various habitats and track changes to these habitats over time. At the micro level, NParks is working with researchers to compile DNA databases so that minute traces of DNA in the environment (eDNA) can be used to detect plant and animal species without ever seeing, collecting or disturbing them. We are also using computer models to analyse the data collected.

The use of such technology will complement traditional survey methods and create a more comprehensive understanding of our ecosystems. This will help NParks improve our management strategies to conserve our natural heritage for future generations.

Festival of Biodiversity – Culmination of NParks’ Biodiversity Week

These announcements were made by Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development, during the launch of the 8th Festival of Biodiversity at the Toa Payoh HDB Hub Mall. The launch event was graced by President Halimah Yacob. The Festival is the culmination of the week-long Biodiversity Week, which is organised annually to commemorate the International Day for Biological Diversity.

Singapore Garden Photographer of the Year 2019

During the launch event, Mdm Halimah also gave out prizes to the winners of the Singapore Garden Photographer of the Year competition. Winners were selected from over 16,000 entries across three themes: “People in Nature”, “Heritage in our Parks and Gardens” and “Our BiodiverCity”. The competition aims to showcase the rich biodiversity and greenery that make Singapore an endearing and exceptional City in a Garden.

Last updated on 24 May 2019

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