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Author/Editor: N. Sivasothi
Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore.

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05 Jul 2007 - Raffles Museum News has shifted to http://news.rafflesmuseum.net

News about NUS' Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Singapore - Archives

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Sun 29 Jan 2006

More on Paedocypris progenetica

Category : pub

27 Jan 2006 - Hours after the wire article about Paedocypris progenetica was released on 25 Jan 2006, more than 200 webpages and agencies around the world picked up the story, including the Singapore and Malaysian press [CNA - Straits Times - The Star] and blogs like Tomorrow.sg and Pharyngula.

Since there is a great curiosity about the fish, I asked Tan Heok Hui, one of the co-authors of the Paedocypris paper for the images they released to the press.

Heok Hui is a Research Officer at the Raffles Museum. Amongst other things, he is well known as a fighting fish expert, having discovered more than half the existing species through expeditions.

Our director Peter Ng calls him "Singapore's Indiana Jones" for his enthusiastic work in the depths of jungles in Thailand, Borneo, Java, Sumatra and Malaysia.

Meanwhile a very amused Maurice in Switzerland has been sending us links from coverage there - tsr (tv)

Down at Heok Hui's lab, I looked at the fish darting about in the tank. I understood why they initially dismissed these as fish fry - the fish fit the part! Eventually it was the females bearing eggs that led to the realisation that this was a really small fish! And it is a 7.9mm female that holds the record. Heok Hui clarified that the reddish-bellies of the live fish were simply a sign they had just been fed and not to mistake that for body pigmentation!

The fish are available in the aquarium trade and there are enthusiasts all over the world who rear such blackwater fish, fully aware that they may become all but extinct in the near future.

The threatened peat swamp forests of Southeast Asia

My early years in Peter's lab, in between looking for some rather elusive otters, was spent in explorations of Malaysia's peat swamps. It was a real eye-opener for me to find a thriving diversity of colurful small fish emerge in the dark-colured but clear acidic waters. And the dawning and distressing realisation that most people were unaware about the existence of this rich ecosystem.

And diverse it was -

"The pH of such swamp waters can be as low as 3 -- about the same as vinegar. "Until recently, peat swamps were assumed to be hostile, acidic places where the biodiversity was low. But that's because no one had actually jumped in."

After taking the plunge into numerous swamps on the Malay Peninsula and the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, [Peter] Ng's team has found some 80 fish new to science, bringing the estimate of the total number of species in the swamps to 200300. "My students say they have too much to study," he says. A high proportion of the species are exclusive to the peat-swamp environment." - link

In the years that followed, however, most of these places simply disappeared. Large tracts of peat swamp forest were loggged, even as new records and species were being discovered. See:

  • Peter Ng, J. B. Tay, & K. K. P. Lim, 1994. Diversity and conservation of blackwater fishes in Peninsular Malaysia, particularly in the North Selangor peat swamp forest. Hydrobiologia, 285 (1-3): 203 - 218. DOI: 10.1007/BF00005667 - link.
  • Peter Ng, 1998. "Peat Swamp fishes of Southeast Asia - Diversity Under Threat." - link.
  • Peter Ng & Tan Heok Hui, 1997. "Freshwater Fishes of Southeast Asia - Potential for the Aquarium Fish Trade and Conservation Issues." - article link, journal link.

And the logging and draining of peat swamps appear to have escalated the annual forest fires that began to plague the region in the late 80's:

"Some 800,000ha of forest and plantations burned in Indonesia last month. But it wasn't just any forest. It was peat swamp forest, in particular. At the same time, some 160ha of peat forest was also ablaze in Kampung Penadah, Pekan, in Pahang. It took two weeks for the firemen to douse the flames.

There is a pattern in these fires, say wetlands experts. Peat swamp infernos have become more common in this region in recent years, according to Faizal Parish, executive director of conservation group Wetlands International Asia Pacific.

"This was not the case up until 10 years ago," he says. The advent of peat swamp fires, he adds, parallels logging and draining of water from peat swamps.

- "Vital to save peat swamps." By Tan Cheng Li. The Star, The Star, 11 Nov 1997 - link.

Singapore's loss of biodiversity seems to be a forecast for a similarly catastrophic loss of biodiversity in Southeast Asia. Will any of the lessons learnt translate into solutions?

I can only hope that this brief media interest will help highlight existing efforts of individuals and agencies attempting to promote the conservation of these marvels of biodiversity that ultimately affect the environmental health of this planet.

See also Navjot S. Sodhi & Barry W. Brook, 2005. "Southeast Asian Biodiversity in Crisis." Cambridge Tropical Biology Series, 192 pp.

Updated, 29 Jan 2006 - one irrelevant link removed.

Posted at 11:28AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | ,