Uncovering New Frogs of Bukit Belalong, Temburong.

Institute for Biodiversity & Environmental Research (IBER) Research Highlights: Uncovering New Frogs of Bukit Belalong, Temburong.

Following is an account by PhD Student, Hanyrol Hanyzan

Studying wild animals especially rainforest frogs and snakes has always been a passion of mine. With a Graduate Research Scholarship from UBD, financial support from the Brunei Research Council, and supervision by Dr Ulmar Grafe from the Faculty of Science, I have been studying these fascinating creatures professionally. My PhD research at the UBD looks at the diversity, movement patterns and diets of frogs within the Ulu Temburong National Park to better understand the functional role they play in the ecosystem. Some of the rarest frogs on Borneo are found on the tops of isolated hills or mountains, and I realized that a mini expedition to Bukit Belalong would be worthwhile. Bukit Belalong is more than 900 meter above sea level comprising of submontane forest, about 13 km away from the Kuala Belalong Field Studies Center.

After making the necessary arrangement with KBFSC-IBER, I decided to take on the trip from 13th to the 15th of November 2013 with a small team consisting of Salwa Khalid, Claas Damken (IBER Research Fellow) as well as two staff members from the KBFSC as our guides and porters.

On day one, we took a boat up the Temburong River and arrived at Sungai Gruie. From there we set off on foot to the camp site at Busiri. It took us seven hours to get there. Exhausted, we prepared the hammocks and tarps for the night. Soon after, Claas - the newly joined IBER research fellow collected leaf litter samples and searched the area for different species of true bugs.  In the evening, we descended the steep slope to the nearby stream and found ourselves 15 frog species - a very good number.

The next morning after packing, we resumed our journey to Bukit Belalong. The route was hilly throughout but it was doable. About seven hours later, we reached the peak and excitedly claimed our reward of a breath-taking view overlooking the Temburong lowland rainforest. When the first frog started calling around sunset, my excitement level went skyrocketing. In total, we heard and encountered nine species of frogs around Bukit Belalong including two bush frogs that were new records for Brunei: Philautus davidlabangi (top image) and P. mjobergi (bottom image). With this new discovery, there are now 71 species of frogs at the Ulu Temburong National Park out of a total 84 species in the whole of Brunei. Although very brief, this survey further confirmed  that Brunei is a hotspot of amphibian diversity and has a higher species richness.

Submontane and montane forests certainly need more attention as they are expected to hold unique, endemic frog communities that set them apart from the more intensely surveyed lowland forests.  This knowledge will aid in choosing important areas for conservation. On our return trip from the Bukit, we walked for a gruelling nine hours back to Sungai Gruie where our boatman was thankfully waiting to take us back to civilization.

Much relieved, I was already looking forward to my next trip to Bukit Belalong.

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