Thesis: Effects of environmental change on montane amphibians and birds in Peninsular Malaysia
Tropical montane forests (>1000m a.s.l.) in Southeast Asia (SEA) comprise more than half of such remaining forests globally. They serve as important refuges for many endemic species and are crucial sources of pristine water. However, they are increasingly endangered due to anthropogenic development and climate change. Empirical studies in SEA have revealed that upward shifts in the altitudinal distribution of birds and moths can be attributed to deforestation and/or climate change. However, there have been no studies documenting the synergistic effects of habitat and climate change on montane amphibians and birds in SEA. Comparing data 12 years earlier, I will analyze how bird species abundances have been affected by habitat and climate change. Then, using models I will project abundances and species' resilience to habitat quality and climate change. I will also survey amphibians to determine if their responses are similar to birds. Amphibians are ideal study taxa since they are highly sensitive to environmental changes and are representative fauna of aquatic and terrestrial environments. Since individuals are captured to study their demography, I will also examine their population genetics from blood and tissue samples. Such knowledge not only deepens our understanding of the biogeography and genetic diversity of montane biota but also strengthens the cause for their preservation since gene flow between populations even within the same mountain range are expected to be low.
Why my research is important
The project will lead to a better understanding of the impacts of habitat degradation and climate change on native montane birds and amphibians in Peninsular Malaysia. As montane environments and native biota are threatened by increasing agricultural and urban development, the need to document how the biota is affected is urgent. Evidence-based management strategies can then be devised and implemented for the preservation of the remaining montane environments. Further, as level of endemism in montane ecosystems is high, endemic species face a higher risk of extinction as their distributions are limited; thus they deserve higher conservation priority. Humans also benefit from the ecosystem services that montane environment provide. For instance, they are a vital source of clean water, they control soil erosion and minimize the occurrence of landslides, and serve as a tourist attraction for many local and foreign visitors.