We have found forests in Borneo that have existed for four million years without flinching

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Forests are “living” organisms that change over millennia. They adapt to changes in the climate and the appearance and disappearance of species of their flora and fauna, not to mention the diversity of microorganisms they can host. But these changes may not always be so profound. A team of researchers has found forests on the island of Borneo that have maintained their dominant tree species for four million years.


The forest in the Pliocene.
The team of experts has reached the conclusion through the analysis of plant fossils present in the area. These fossils were dated to the Pliocene, the era from 5.3 to 2.6 million years ago, and included remains of trees from the dipterocarp familysimilar to those that prevail in the ecosystem today.

Peter Wilf, a geologist at Penn State University in the US, heads the list of authors of the study, published in the magazine Peer J. “This is the first demonstration that the dominant life form characteristic of Borneo and the entire Asian humid tropics, dipterocarp trees, were not only present but dominant. We have found more fossils of dipterocarps than of any other group of plants”, explained Wilf in the Press release.

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Where exactly?
The study was carried out in two locations in northern Bruneion the Island of Borneo, in the Malay archipelago that divides the Pacific from the Indian. Ferry Slik, a professor at the University of Brunei Darussalam and co-author of the study, pointed out that there are few fossil studies focused on the Asian tropics. “I hope that this study will encourage more research efforts on fossils in the tropics, as they will tell us a lot about the natural history of the region.”

However, finding fossils in these forests is a difficult task because of the forest cover and because the terrain hides most of the rock formations that can be found. Many of the studies to date have looked at fossilized pollen, not leaves, but this is an incomplete picture that omits plants such as Dipterocarps, as their pollen is not well preserved.

Dipterocarpus.
Borneo is home to some 270 species of dipterocarps, more than half of the approximately 700 known. The trees of this family stand out for their height, which can reach 100 meters, making them the tallest tropical trees. The family includes various species, some of which are of great importance in sustaining biodiversity in the region. These trees structure the forests and provide sustenance to various species thanks to their seeds.

These trees are also appreciated for their wood. Although the deforestation of Borneo has decreased in recent years This has affected a large part of the island, which continues to show high levels of deforestation. Climate change has added pressure to this equation. The authors speak of a “biodiversity crisis” affecting the island, but nevertheless it is a “jewel” of the region, having preserved more than half of its forests.

Why is this finding important?
Wilf is confident that the finding will help conserve these forests. The age of these forests could be a good justification for preserving an ecosystem that is home to several critically endangered species. Those entities that have a known “paleohistory” start with greater added value, both in educational terms and in preservation. This makes them more resistant to possible extinction, the authors explain.

Lessons for other tropical zones.
It is not just about this region of the world. The Amazonian climate is similar and the challenges faced by the jungle there may be comparable. If Brazil is the country with the highest index of biodiversity Brunei has the lead if the measure per square kilometer is considered. It can also harbor secrets yet to be elucidated about its history and that of the species that inhabit it.

Image | Ken Shōno

Forests are “living” organisms that change over millennia. They adapt to changes in the climate and the appearance and disappearance…

Forests are “living” organisms that change over millennia. They adapt to changes in the climate and the appearance and disappearance…

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