40 species potentially new to Singapore discovered in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve survey

Channel NewsAsia 25 May 19;

SINGAPORE: More than 40 species potentially new to Singapore have been discovered during a comprehensive survey of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, according to a National Parks Board (NParks) media release on Saturday (May 25).

In total, around 200 species new to the nature reserve were listed during the survey.

Of these, more than 30 species of spider and 10 species of beetle are potentially new to Singapore. Some may also be new to science, said NParks.

These include two new types of armour-plated spiders - the Paculla bukittimahensis, named after Bukit Timah and a type of jumping spider with white and gold scales - as well as a species of stick insect.

Researchers also found records of more than 160 plant species not previously listed in the nature reserve.

These plant records were collected during the survey, as well as during previous surveys conducted by researchers from the Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore, NParks and expert enthusiasts.

In addition, the Yellow-striped Caecilian, a critically endangered amphibian, was also listed in the survey. It was last seen in Singapore in 1989, according to NParks.

In spite of the new discoveries, the findings also "serve as a reminder" of the fragility of nature as many of the new species were not found in large numbers, said Mr Lim Liang Jim, group director of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre.

"While there have been many new species listings, many of them were not found in large numbers," he said. "This finding reflects the fragility of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, and the need to strengthen the conservation and resilience of the reserve."

The survey, which was first proposed in 2014, involved more than 300 researchers and volunteers. Pre-survey preparation work started in 2014, while fieldwork was carried out from 2015 with most data collection finishing two years later. Some data analysis is still ongoing, said Mr Lim.

It was the first comprehensive survey of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in two decades, with the previous major survey carried out between 1993 and 1997.


New technology will be used to add "relevance and diversity" to NParks' biodiversity surveys, said the agency, adding that new techniques can improve data collection and reduce the impact on wildlife.

"For example, night vision equipment employing thermal imaging can be used to observe animals in their natural habitat without disturbing them through the conventional use of spotlights," said Mr Lim. "These methods also have a much better detection rate, especially for fauna which may be masked by dense vegetation."

It highlighted the example of ultrasonic bat detectors, which are already in use to detect and identify bats.

In future, these detectors will be complemented by other acoustic sensors which can remotely monitor the calls of birds, frogs, reptiles and mammals in the forest, distinguish between different species and assess the number of individuals of a species nearby.

Marine acoustic sensors will also be used to monitor marine species - such as dolphins - in the water, while drones will be deployed to take aerial images of habitats and track changes over time.

NParks is also working with researchers to compile DNA databases, so that minute traces of DNA in the environment can be used to detect plant and animal species without the need to see or disturb them.

Source: CNA/nc(hs)

Getting up close and personal with wildlife, without them realising it

NEO RONG WEI Today Online 25 May 19;

SINGAPORE — Slowly and carefully, the Malayan Colugo leapt up the trunk of a tree as it foraged for food, seemingly unaware of the pairs of eyes on it.

As the nocturnal mammal perched itself on a branch, it came to a standstill momentarily. Then, it took off.

With its “wings” outstretched, the flying lemur glided over my head, as I watched in awe through the lens of my night vision goggles.

During a media tour conducted by the National Parks (NParks) on Tuesday night (May 21), TODAY caught a rare glimpse of how researchers survey nocturnal animals in Singapore using new technology.

Armed with night vision goggles and a red-filtered torchlight, we trudged into the dark wilderness to spot these nocturnal creatures.

Showing up as bright white figures, the goggles show a visual contrast in heat signatures between warm-blooded mammals and their cool surroundings.

Yet, some inanimate objects like signs showed up brightly on the goggles as well, fooling our untrained eyes.

It is just a matter of “getting used to”, quipped National Biodiversity Centre manager Li Tianjiao, who led the tour.

“Night vision equipment allows us to observe the animals in absolutely no-light conditions without altering their natural behaviour.”

Before these night vision equipment was introduced in October last year, NParks used red-filtered lights or red bulbs with a reduced intensity to observe animals in the dark.

NParks said that the researchers have spotted two to three times more animals with the new equipment. Previously, they spot an average of five species a night.

Other new technology that NParks will implement includes acoustic sensors that remotely monitor and distinguish calls from different species, said Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee at the launch of Festival of Biodiversity on Saturday (May 25).

Minister Lee added that NParks is also working to compile databases so that minute traces of DNA in the environment can be used to detect plant and animal species remotely without coming into contact with them.

Around 200 species new to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve were listed in a recent comprehensive survey, announced NParks on Saturday.

At least 30 species of spiders and 10 species of beetles are potentially new to Singapore, with some that may even be new to science, added NParks.

Singapore is home to a wide variety of animal and plant species, recording more than 400 species of birds and at least 2,100 native vascular plants.

The island also has 65 species of mammals, with more than three-quarters that are nocturnal, said NParks.


NParks said that the public should adhere to the opening hours of nature parks and reserves, as excessive human disturbance could “alter the natural behaviour” of the animals.

An NParks volunteer was fined S$4,700 recently after leading a photography group into Windsor Nature Park after hours.

TODAY understands that most nature parks and reserves in Singapore are not open to the public after dark.

“(Animals) could maybe stop foraging for food or try not to cross an area where people are generally found,” said Ms Li.

She added that artificial lights reportedly disrupt nocturnal activity, which can interfere with the animals’ reproduction cycles.

NPark limits its night surveys to about twice a week, and keeps the surveying team to a maximum of four people each time to minimise disturbance to the animals.

“By doing this, we hope that we can protect their population sizes. If we know what food they eat, we can try to plant more of their food sources,” said Ms Li.

NParks discovers 40 potentially new species of animals in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Hariz Baharudin Straits Times 25 May 19;

SINGAPORE - More than 40 potentially new species of animals have been found in Singapore following a multi-year survey of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the first such study in 20 years.

Between 2014 and 2018, researchers from the National Parks Board (NParks), together with other researchers and volunteers, found around 200 species of plants and animals previously not found in the reserve, including the 40 new ones.

NParks said in a statement on Saturday (May 25) that the discovery points to the "increasing scientific value" of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

"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," said NParks.

"In spite of its small size, the reserve is home to a diverse array of biodiversity, with new species continually being discovered."

According to NParks, the 163 hectare reserve is home to 55 per cent of native plant species and 84 per cent of native amphibian species found here, even though it is only 0.23 per cent of Singapore's size.

The new species discovered included a six-eyed spider with shiny, hardened and dark-coloured plates over the front part of its body. It has been named after the reserve - Paculla bukittimahensis.

A rarely seen amphibian, the yellow-striped Caecilian, was also found in the reserve. The last time it was spotted in Singapore was 30 years ago.

Said NParks: "This record highlights the resilience of the species and indicates the sustainable condition of hill streams within the reserve."

The group director of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre Lim Liang Jim said that the Reserve is home to 40 per cent of spider species, 84 per cent of amphibian species and 56 per cent of mammal species in Singapore.

"So this also shows how fragile biodiversity is in Singapore and how important it is to conserve the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve," he told The Straits Times.

According to NParks, the survey also showed that the closure of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve from 2014 to 2016 allowed it to recover as erosion rates were lowered and soil compaction was reduced.

But while the discovery of the new animals is encouraging, NParks said that many of them were not found in large numbers, which reflects the fragility of the park and the need to "strengthen the conservation and resilience of the reserve".

One of the ways this is being done is through NPark's Forest Restoration Action Plan, which will see about 250,000 native trees and shrubs being planted in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the Central Catchment Nature Reserves and other parks over the next 10 years.

More than 300 researchers and volunteers took part in the survey, which was supported by the HSBC through the Garden City Fund. It was the first comprehensive survey of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in 20 years.

The last survey was conducted from 1993 to 1997.

Said Mr Lim: "As the saying goes, we cannot conserve what we don't love, and we cannot love what we don't know.

"It is important therefore to conduct such surveys from time to time to basically understand what we do have insight and thereafter to plan for the conservation of their rare and sensitive habitats."

Meanwhile, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said on Saturday that NParks will use new technology like acoustic sensors to remotely monitor and detect animals in parks here.

It will also compile databases of the DNA of animal and plant species found in Singapore.

This way, NParks can use minute traces of DNA in the environment to detect the animals and plants, without coming into contact with them, added Mr Lee, who is also the Second Minister for National Development.

He made the announcement at the Festival of Biodiversity launch at Toa Payoh HDB Hub Mall. The festival concludes Biodiversity Week, an annual public event organised by NParks that highlights community efforts to preserve Singapore’s natural heritage.

The launch on Saturday was graced by President Halimah Yacob, who gave out prizes to the winners of the Singapore Garden Photographer of the Year competition.