Unlocking the potential of Seasonal Forests to underpin Wallacea's green economy

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Department Name: Identification and Naming

Abstract

This project will investigate the understudied Seasonal Forests of Wallacea in East and West Nusa Tenggara Provinces of Indonesia, specifically the islands of Sumbawa, Sumba and Flores, to assess how they will be affected by imminent environmental change and to evaluate their present and future economic potential. The forests of Indonesia are some of the most biodiverse but unexplored in the world with huge potential to be effectively managed to support economic development. To allow local communities to develop a stable green economy based on the region's natural capital assets, we must fully understand the forests' diversity and distribution.
To address this need, we will first produce a Natural Capital Asset Register of the region's plant diversity consisting of species checklist, forest atlas derived from satellite imagery, ecoregion definition, and ethnobotany database. A structured programme of exploration across the three islands, generating plot and soil data, will give us an understanding of the standing biomass and soil fertility to understand ecosystem function. We will then compare these data to climatic variables to model the response of the Seasonal Forests of Wallacea to climate change and map anthropogenic risks, such as development for mining and infrastructure. We will carry out conservation red-listing to assess the resilience of the region's biodiversity to these environmental changes. Finally, we will determine which natural capital assets of the Seasonal Forests can be developed, working at both the species level, identifying plant resources that have further potential for economic exploitation and habitat level, exploring the potential for and risks of forest-based eco-tourism.
We will initiate a programme of capacity building to develop regional scientific capacity to deliver these aims. We have assembled a group of experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Surya University, Herbarium Bogoriense, and the University of Nusa Cendana in Indonesia to undertake the programme of exploration, mapping, seed-banking, training, and analysis to inform the development of Wallacea's green economy.

The proposed research will have three Work Packages:
1. Documenting the plant diversity of Wallacea's Seasonal Forests and how it is distributed: building an inventory of the region's natural capital.
2. Asessing the resilience of Seasonal Forests in Wallacea to climatic and anthropogenic changes
3. Evaluating the potential of Wallacea's natural capital to underpin its green economy: building in-country capacity around a green economy.

The overall goal of this project is to produce new biodiversity data from the Wallacea region, to determine the distribution of, and threats to, selected species, better characterise regional biodiversity associations though ecoregion definition, and understand the resilience at the species and habitat level to future environmental change in Wallacea. These data will be interpreted and made easily available for use by local communities and other stakeholders, enabling them to exploit and manage the biodiversity more effectively, whilst conserving the habitats and endemic, endangered and economic species.

Planned Impact

The outputs from this project will:
1. Document basic plant science and landscape diversity data by delivering a Natural Capital Asset Register;
2. Identify resilient species and landscapes for sustainable development with Indonesia stakeholders;
3: Initiate an ex situ conservation programme and ecotourism zoning system;
4: Run a capacity building programme to grow in-country partners and local communities' skills and knowledge base.

The proposed research will be delivered through three interlinked Work Packages the impacts of which are outlined below:

Work Package 1 Impact: This project will be the first large-scale effort to synthesise information on the identity and geographic distribution of the natural capital assets of the Seasonal Forests of Wallacea and the material, non-material and regulating benefits obtained from them. We will generate new baseline data on the vegetation of Wallacea. This baseline information will provide essential information to inform ecosystem-level actions including prioritization of areas for conservation, green economy development and habitat restoration. Dissemination of the floristic exploration above will be via high-impact biogeography journals, floristic and taxonomic publications, posters and talks at international conferences and academic institutions, as well as more informal routes including blogs and social media (Twitter and Facebook).

Work Package 2 Impact: At the landscape level, the project will provide an understanding of how the Seasonal Forests of Wallacea may be affected by different climate and land use change scenarios. These will help to formulate policies for delineating potential conservation corridors and selecting areas to promote green economy approaches. At the species level, we will be assessing threats to dominant plant species in the Seasonal Forests of Wallacea, which will allow us to prioritize seed banking actions and develop policies to understand how best to conserve dominant species. We will disseminate our findings through research publications and outputs including high-impact conservation journals when defining the threats to the region, publication on the Red List (each entry has a URL), as well as more informal routes including blogs, social media, and collaborate with local Universities to encourage their students to undertake their thesis research projects on biodiversity. Together with the capacity building programme we will enhance the knowledge of local people to further conserve their biodiversity and raise the profile of region and its vegetation at both local and global levels

Work Package 3 Impact: We will identify dominant, useful and endangered species for ex situ conservation in seed banks or living collections and ensure these are made available for use in research, sustainable economic development or reintroduction through dissemination on Kew and partner websites. The project's ecotourism study will identify sites development whilst maintaining biodiversity richness/integrity and ecosystem function.

Publications

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