Skrevet av Emne: Botanists uncover a flora treasure trove in Merapoh hills.  (Lest 812 ganger)

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Utlogget Rolf

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"THE drive along Federal Route 8, or the Gua Musang Highway, in Pahang, is a rather scenic one. Towering over the expanse of oil palm estates, which are broken up in parts by rural kampung and lush forests, are majestic-looking limestone outcrops.

Some 20 limestone karsts – some people say it is at least 30, as not all are shown on maps – are scattered along the road stretching from Chegar Perah to Merapoh in the district of Lipis before the land inches into Kelantan territory. The karsts are highly visible as one makes the drive but surprisingly, they are completely unknown from a botanical viewpoint.

“We looked for data and found no record of the plants there. None of the limestone hills have been botanically explored before. For us, it’s a botanical blank on the map of flora,” says Dr Ruth Kiew, a plant taxonomist at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM).

And so, when her team converged on the hills around Merapoh, there were plenty of interesting discoveries – there were rare, endemic plants, and even an undescribed one. At Gua Gunting, the hill which will be quarried, they recorded over 200 plant species in just two days. This is hardly surprising as limestone hills are known for their rich plant diversity.

Peninsular Malaysia’s limestone hills cover only 0.3% of the land area but are home to 14% of her plant species. Unfortunately, none of the limestone hills in Merapoh are protected, and hence, are at risk from wanton development. The FRIM team made two trips this year, where they surveyed five hills.

“From what we have found so far, it’s a unique place as the flora on each hill is so different. This is unique from my experience of working in Malaysia,” says Dr Kiew, a leading authority on limestone flora. “I expected the flora to be an extension of limestones from Gua Musang (in Kelantan), so I was surprised that the hills are so different and we’re picking up unexpected things.”"

"When I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape."
W.H. Auden, "In Praise of Limestone"