Malaysia: Plant and animal species on Mount Kinabalu evolving

RUBEN SARIO The Star 12 Aug 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Mount Kinabalu is a hotbed of evolution, an extensive Malaysian-Dutch scientific expedition has determined.

The 2012 expedition, the findings of which were published in the Aug 12 issue of Nature magazine, involved the Dutch Naturalis Biodiversity Centre and Sabah Parks researchers.

It showed that new plant and animal species have been evolving on the 4,095m mountain.

“It is thought that tropical mountains are locations where very old species survive. However, our research reveals that most of the species are young,” said Naturalis scientist Menno Schilthuizen.

He said the study involved collecting tens of thousands of plants, animals and mushrooms including ferns, mosses, orchids, snails, leeches, insects, spiders and frogs at 37 locations on and around Mount Kinabalu.

Schilthuizen said they then used DNA sampling to determine which plant and animal species unique to the mountain had in fact evolved.

They found that most of the species that occurred on Mount Kinabalu were in fact younger than the mountain itself.

“We also found that the endemic biodiversity consists of two groups.

“Some of the unique species are immigrants from faraway areas such as the Himalayas or China, which were already adapted to a cool environment,” Schilthuizen said.

The other endemic plants and creatures evolved from the local species that occurred at the foot of the mountain and gradually adapted to the cooler climate, Schilthuizen added.

“Our research has revealed the extent to which species are able to evolve to keep up with climate change and this allows us to make predictions for the future,” he said, adding that this was all the more reason for the protection of endemic species.

Schilthuizen said like other tropical mountains, Mount Kinabalu was exceptionally high in biodiversity.

“There is an exceptional number of species on the mountain due to the variations in temperature and environment in the different elevations,” he said.