Working with a team from Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Professor David Burslem of the Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences (IBES), University of Aberdeen, is currently investigating the invasion of Acacias into kerangas (heath) forests of Brunei Darussalam.
In collaboration with Dr Rahayu Sukri and Assoc Prof Dr Kushan Tennakoon of the Faculty of Science and Institute for Biodiversity and Environmental Research (IBER) at Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Professor Burslem has visited Brunei twice to work with the team. This collaborative research project is being supported by a research grant from UBD awarded to Dr Rahayu Sukri as the PI.
Kerangas forest occurs throughout Borneo on raised beaches and is known for its inability to support agriculture: the word kerangas is an Iban word that roughly translates as ‘land which cannot grow rice’. These forests have not evolved to withstand burning and so recovery after fire takes decades. Acacias belong to a family of exotic trees native to Australia. Their adaptations to fire allow Acacias to dominate these disturbed environments, and there is a fear that this will prevent the recovery of the native kerangas forest.
Acacia is prized for its quick growth and production of useful timber for furniture, making it a great choice for forestry plantations and stabilising soil after anthropogenic or natural disturbances. As a result, Acacia has been planted in environments around the globe, from Mediterranean climates in South Africa to tropical Southeast Asia. However, due to its vigorous growth, Acacia can become an invasive pest, outcompeting native flora and putting pressure on native ecosystems. In Brunei, observations suggest that Acacia, assisted by fire, is spreading and will ultimately severely degrade forest biodiversity, as well as preventing regeneration of native kerangas plant species.
The current project investigates the impact of invasive Acacia in conjunction with fire on the kerangas forest of Brunei. The research group is looking at changes in edaphic conditions, species compositions and light environments in localities that were formally pristine kerangas forest. No studies as yet have investigated changes in these characteristics, and the team hope that the results will provide a solid foundation for a more comprehensive assessment of Acacia invasion in Brunei Darussalam, as well as the research and development of restorative measures.
Aberdeen MSc graduate James Margrove sampling soil as part of a joint research project with the Universiti Brunei Darussalam