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Researchers tell of Sabah experiences
Published on: Sunday, September 24, 2017

Kota Kinabalu: An amazing exotic place to come and work, with amazing forests, lots of interesting wildlife and many interesting questions to answer.

This was how tropical forest ecologist Dr Eleanor Slade described what it was like coming to Sabah to do her research.

Slade, who focuses on invertebrates and ecosystem functioning at the Universities of Oxford and Lancester, said she first came to Sabah in 2003 when she was just a PhD student.

"I have never been to Borneo, so coming here is like coming to an amazing exotic place.

I guess I have fallen in love with it and have been working here ever since," said Slade, who was among those invited to give a talk at the Sabah World Rivers Day, in conjunction with the Irrigation and Drainage Department's Golden Jubilee celebration, here, recently.

Slade and fellow tropical ecologist, Dr Sarah Luke, were invited to talk on their ongoing research in Sabah assessing the benefits of riparian reserves and developing the science to an environmental policy.

"I guess for the sort of work we're doing and like what we are saying in our talks, it is actually quite a good place to work as a scientist because there are still many questions to answer and many new species to describe," said Slade.

"There is also the amazing tropical forest that you have and then the convergence of land to oil palm plantations, and how you manage landscapes and agriculture in a landscape scale so that you can still have oil palm plantation which will be very valuable for economy and socially.

"It is great that you can also conserve the amazing forest and species that you have which makes it is an interesting place to work. It is also a great place to work because you can set up these collaborations," she added.

She also described the efforts towards riparian reserves in Sabah as really promising at the moment.

"I think it's really promising. The riparian reserve policies are being updated for Sabah by the Irrigation and Drainage Department.

"It is really promising that people like Miklin Ationg are engaged and want to have a look and reassess the policies as they exist.

"They try to look beyond just water quality and quantity which is obviously very important but also to look at biodiversity within those reserves as well and the potential it can be used, for example, as corridors by species to move through the landscape.

"I think this is a really exciting opportunity to engage both science and policy-makers together to really have a positive effect to riparian reserves policy in Sabah," she said.

Their ongoing research in Sabah so far demonstrates that some riparian reserves support high levels of birds and invertebrate diversity if more than 40 metres wide (80 metres total width), as well as commercially important carbon stocks if not disturbed.

Their study showed the biodiversity and carbon values of riparian reserves will become increasingly important for plantations seeking environmental certification such as Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and could also be useful to mitigate against climate change.

The results of this review have been synthesised into a policy brief and poster to enable the Department of Irrigation and Drainage policy-makers to make informed decisions based on the current scientific knowledge-base when they review their riparian guidelines in the coming years.

"This collaboration is an excellent example of how scientists and policy-makers can work together to synthesis current knowledge and make it accessible and relevant," they said. - Sherell Jeffrey

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