Best of our wild blogs: 25 Dec 15

Narcissus Flycatcher, a New Flycatcher to Singapore
Singapore Bird Group

Dragonfly (48) – Gynacantha basiguttata
Dragonflies & Damselflies of Singapore

Indonesia defends COP21 emissions reporting from Greenpeace critique
Mongabay Environmental News

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Exchange that kiss under mistletoe - in Singapore

Republic has eight species of this plant, while Britain has just one; they are a valuable food source for animals
Audrey Tan, Straits Times AsiaOne 25 Dec 15;

Did you know that mistletoe, often associated with wintery Christmases and romance, can be found in tropical Singapore?

In fact, there are more mistletoe species here than in the whole of Britain, which has only one mistletoe species, said biologist Jean Yong of the Singapore University of Technology and Design's (SUTD's) biology faculty.

Associate Professor Yong had in October last year co-authored the book A Guide To The Common Epiphytes And Mistletoes Of Singapore with four other researchers from SUTD, National Parks Board (NParks) and NParks' Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology.

Eight mistletoe species can be found here, down from the 14 recorded since the 1800s. The other six are presumed to be extinct.

Prof Yong said: "The extinct mistletoes were rare species growing on forest trees that were removed during land development in Singapore over the last 100 years.

"Fortunately, our extinct species can be found in Malaysia and Indonesia and it will be great to re-introduce them."

Two of the eight extant species - the red flower scurrula and the herbal taxillus - are nationally critically endangered. Others, like the common Malayan mistletoe that has brownish-green flowers and reddish fruit, can be found on roadside trees and garden shrubs.

Mistletoes are semi-parasitic plants that grow on a host, usually a tree or shrub.

Although they can photosynthesise to make their own food, they rely on their host for water and nutrients, which they extract from the stems of the latter.

To the untrained eye, it is hard to distinguish the mistletoe from the foilage of its host, especially since the parasite does not have brightly-coloured or large, showy flowers.

Despite their lack of showmanship, however, these plants have won fans in people.

Among them are Prof Yong and mistletoe enthusiast Francis Lim, 60, who in 2011 published a book on this group of plants.

Mr Lim, a retired zookeeper, wrote The Singapore Mistletoe Story: An Expose Of A Botanical Marvel to chronicle his encounters with the "lives and mysteries of the native mistletoes in Singapore".

His interest in the plant was sown in 2008, when he saw some mistletoe seeds germinating on the leaf of a shrub at the Singapore Zoo. The fact that seeds were growing on another plant piqued his curiosity.

Mr Lim said: "Many people think these semi-parasitic plants are bad, but mistletoes are a valuable food source for a number of animals.

"I find it therapeutic to study them, and can spend hours observing a mistletoe plant community and noting the species of birds and butterflies that come to visit."

Prof Yong said mistletoes are alternative sources of food for animals such as birds, squirrels and butterflies, especially when the host trees are not fruiting or flowering.

"If the host trees have mistletoes growing on them, the mistletoes will continue to supply pollen and honey from their flowers, fruit, and leaves as food plants for caterpillars and the painted Jezebel butterfly."

An ongoing study by him has found that mistletoe growing on mangrove trees can help them perpetuate by attracting certain mangrove birds and other pollinators to the habitat, even when the trees are not fruiting or flowering.

"This is very important to helping the mangrove trees survive," he said, adding that mangroves are important nurseries for many coastal marine species, including fish, crabs, prawns and shellfish.

Mangroves offer coastal protection to many shorelines and are important carbon sinks, which can increase the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere, Prof Yong said.

Mr Wong Tuan Wah, director of conservation at NParks, said it works with the community and partners to implement and guide programmes to conserve and recover native species as part of its approach to protect and conserve Singapore's biodiversity.

This includes conserving rare species in their natural habitats, rescuing plants from areas undergoing development and increasing their numbers through seed planting, cuttings and tissue culture, as well as by keeping them in secure areas for protection.

Mr Wong said: "Among the plants we are interested in are mistletoe species, and we have been looking into their conservation in collaboration with Mr Francis Lim."

Five species in Singapore

Dendrophthoe pentandra

This is the most common species of mistletoe in Singapore, and can be found growing on trees and shrubs along roads, in parks and gardens. This bushy plant can grow up to 2m tall, and has fruit that look like berries, which can grow up to 1.2 cm in length, and may be covered with soft hair. The leaves of this mistletoe can be pounded and used to treat sores and ulcers, and is also known as a post-childbirth medication.

Macrosolen retusus

This species of mistletoe is listed as vulnerable, with sizeable populations found only in the Southern Islands. It can also be found on a few trees at Bidadari, Changi Point, Fort Canning Park, Mount Vernon, Normanton Park and Simei. It is a short, stout shrub and has berry-like fruit that measure about 1.2cm in diameter.

Scurrula parasitica

This is a critically endangered species of mistletoe in Singapore and is known to grow only on a mangrove tree species in Pulau Tekong, Lumnitzera littorea. It has berry-like fruit that are reddish-yellow .

Taxillus chinensis

The herbal taxillus is the newest species of mistletoe to be recorded in Singapore. It was found growing on a Rose-of- India tree in East Coast Park in 2004. Now, it is considered critically endangered here due to its limited occurrence - it is found only in the eastern parts of Singapore, such as at East Coast Park, Katong and Simei. It has yellowish-brown, berry-like fruit.

Viscum articulatum

This mistletoe is a hyper- parasite, which means it parasitises other mistletoes.

Here, it is growing on the Dendrophthoe pentandra mistletoe. It does not have leaves, instead bearing narrow, yellowish-green stems. Its fruit are berry-like and are translucent and yellowish-green. The leafless mistletoe is listed as vulnerable in Singapore.

Source: A Guide To The Common Epiphytes And Mistletoes Of Singapore

Audrey Tan

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From bacteria to wind power: NTU leads charge in developing renewable energy sources

Nanyang Technological University researchers use bacteria that causes food poisoning to generate electricity and have come up with different designs for wind and tidal turbines to suit Singapore's climate.
Alice Chia Channel NewsAsia 24 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: Wind farms seen in countries such as the United States are not feasible in Singapore due to space constraints and low wind speeds. That is why Nanyang Technological University (NTU) researchers have come up with designs for wind turbines specially adapted to Singapore's climate.

The blades of their turbines are made of a lighter material and are angled in such a way that they spin fast even at low wind speeds. The capacity of each turbine is 50 kilowatts of electricity - enough for the daily power consumption of 70 households.

Researchers are also working to improve the designs of tidal turbines to address challenges in deployment. Waters around Singapore are warmer, which means more marine organisms will grow on the turbines and slow them down.

"We used new types of paints, and new types of chemistries, that will prevent both bio-fouling as well as corrosion,” said Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director at NTU’s Energy Research Institute. “We are designing new forms of blades that will again be more efficient at low tidal flows. And finally, we're also coming up with different mechanisms that will allow the turbines to function without weed entanglement."

The wind turbines will be deployed on Semakau landfill by July 2016, and the tidal turbines by July 2017. It is part of a project to build a power grid that integrates renewable energy sources.

The initiative is known as Renewable Energy Integration Demonstrator - Singapore. The grid will cost an initial S$8 million, and is expected to attract S$20 million more in project investments from industry participants.

"Singapore is renewable energy disadvantaged,” said Prof Mhaisalkar. “We have really very limited wind resources on the main island itself, but the southern parts of Singapore, the islands around Singapore, have significant wind resource. We have measured the wind speeds of up to 6 metres per second on Semakau and adjacent regions."

However, he noted that Singapore's status as a very important shipping hub poses a challenge for it to harvest energy in the southern part of the country. "The entire shipping channels really would limit the deployment of a number of these wind turbines close to the shore.

“So the best opportunity Singapore has is to deploy some of these turbines on our islands, but the greater opportunity is in the ASEAN region, where we have tens and thousands of islands without electrification. And if we can deploy these turbines on these islands, that represents the ideal situation where we can really harvest energy from the region."

So far, the region has only focused on harvesting energy from the sun he said. "The main issue with photovoltaics is you really can harvest energy only during the daytime. The opportunity we have by combining solar with wind as well as with tidal, is that we have the potential for 24-hour coverage of renewables," the professor added.


In a separate project, NTU researchers have found an eco-friendly way to produce hydrogen gas, which can be used as fuel.

First, a chemical is added to a culture of E coli bacteria to produce electricity. Such bacteria are commonly found in the environment, in the intestines of people and animals and some strains that can cause diarrhoea and food poisoning.

Under sunlight, the electricity helps to break up water into its components of hydrogen and oxygen.

"Not only are we able to use bacteria to clean water and to break down waste, we can also use the electrons that are produced by the bacteria to feed into a system that can help us to produce 70 times more hydrogen gas,” said Associate Professor Joachim Loo from NTU’s Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering. “Currently there are actually products out there that use bacteria to produce electricity, but these are all stand-alone systems.

“At the same time, we are also working in the area of solar fuels, where we actually use sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, but these have always been stand-alone systems. So for the first time, we are showing that a hybrid system of combining both together, we get a more efficient production of hydrogen gas."

Professor Loo also said using hydrogen gas can help reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The team hopes to develop the idea into a commercial product in the coming years.

- CNA/ek

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Malaysia: Baby whale washes ashore near Kg Sg Labu Labuan

The Star 25 Dec 15;

The baby whale that washed up dead on Kg Sg Labu shoreline Thursday morning.

LABUAN: A dead look-alike baby humpback whale was washed ashore near the Kg Sg Labu shoreline Thursday morning.

Officials estimated the almost 20-foot whale to be over a year-old and had been dead when it was found lying on the beach.

Labuan Fisheries Department director Anuar Salam Sulaiman told Bernama the cause of the death was not clear and a report had been submitted to the fisheries headquarter in Putrajaya for a thorough investigation.

There were no signs of trauma, such as propeller marks. But the team from our headquarters will carry out investigations to find the cause of death.

Whether it was caught or trapped in a fishing net or hit by trawler, he said.

Anuar said during investigations, samples would be collected to determine its origin.

"It is tough to see. It is so young to die naturally. It is very surprising and very sad, he added.

Villagers found the whale at about 10am, which attracted many villagers to the beach and some even posed for pictures with the whale.

Anuar said the whale's remains would be buried inland Friday at the Kg Sg Labu beach, away from the shoreline, so it would not be decomposed quickly and sort of unhealthy elements.

For the time being, while waiting for the autopsy and investigation teams to arrive, we must bury the whale. The remains will be exhumed for an autopsy later, he said. - Bernama

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In typhoon-hit Philippines, gloom hangs over Christmas

The destruction caused by two typhoons means it will be a gloomy Christmas for many in the Philippines.
Aya Lowe, Channel NewsAsia 24 Dec 15;

MANILA: It was an unexpected finale to the Philippine typhoon season. A little more than a month after the government weather bureau PAGASA announced that Typhoon In-fa could well be the last typhoon of the year, two typhoons barrelled into the country one after the other, with Christmas just days away.

Typhoon Melor hit the Central Visayas on Dec 14, making five landfalls and leaving widespread damage to the country’s main agricultural area, just barely recovering from last month's Typhoon Koppu. Almost immediately after Typhoon Melor left, Typhoon Onyok ploughed in, hitting the vulnerable areas of Southern Mindanao.

According to government figures, around 2.5 million people were affected by Typhoon Melor and Onyok. While the sun may be shining across most of the Philippines, the situation is far from sunny for those who will have to spend Christmas trying to piece their lives back together.

Both typhoons left destruction in their wake. Large areas of central Philippines were plunged into darkness and cut off from communications by strong winds and heavy rains that toppled transmission lines and electric poles. Landslides and flooding also rendered several areas impassable. The typhoons also displaced hundreds of thousands of people, their homes washed away by the strong rains.

The cost of damage to infrastructure and property has amounted to US$5.28 million. Meanwhile, government departments and NGOs disbursed a total of almost US$1.70 million worth of relief assistance to affected areas.

With Christmas around the corner, those affected are trying to maintain some sense of normalcy even if it means celebrating in an evacuation centre. "Certainly the loss of property is bad,” said Richard Gordon, Chairman, Philippine Red Cross. “The stress people have who’ve lost their families have to endure is difficult.

“We have to move in and try to alleviate human suffering. We try to bring in clowns sometimes to cheer up the children, and have a little music and bit of special food.”

Typhoon season, which is typically during the months of June to October had been pushed back later and later with some of the worst typhoons hitting the country at the end of the year.

"Since 2011 we’ve had year-ender typhoons and majority of these are quite devastating,” said Vilma Cabrera- Assistant Secretary at the Department of Social Welfare And Development. “In 2011 we had typhoon Sendong, which affected Cagayan de Oro city, followed by typhoon Pablo that hit the Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley.”

She added: “Last year, we had typhoon Ruby and now it's multiple hazards occuring at the same time. Maybe it’s part of the new normal occurrence, by way of the number of families affected or by damage done. It’s really different from the typhoons in the 1990s or even the 80s."

If there is a silver lining, it is this: The government weather bureau says fair weather is expected to prevail in most parts of the country until Christmas Day. This will give many the chance to start the process of re-building their lives, and beginning the New Year with some hope.

- CNA/rw

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