I had a successful trip to Borneo this summer to remeasure trees in permanent plots that had been set up in previous years by myself and colleagues at the Project Barito Ulu study site. The main question I am interested in answering is how well does the forest regrow after it has been cut for shifting cultivation and what affects the tree species composition and growth rates.
Travel in Borneo is always interesting and my trip to the geographical centre of the island was via a commercial flight from Jakarta to Palangkaraya followed by a floatplane to Muara Joloi with MAF (see Sean's blog here) and then a one-hour boat trip up the river. This involved going up the Lampoei rapids which was only just possible (see the video here); if the water is too low during the drier season then it becomes impassable.
I was assisted by Gonda and Dahin (from Borneo Orang-utan Survival Foundation who will hopefully be taking over running the camp) as well as local staff Afri and Subuhan. Each day we would either travel up or down river or work in the forest near the camp to measure the tree growth and species composition of trees in permanent plots in forests of various ages since shifting agriculture. This quite simply involves measuring thre trees' diameter and labelling them with a uniquely numbered tag. Measuring the diameter of buttressed trees can be challenging as the diameter must be measured above the buttresses which can be more than three metres tall and we used a ladder for these trees.
I was expecting that some of the older plots might have been recut (see above) for cultivation again since my last visit as they are more than 15 years old (which is about the usual length of the swidden cycle in this area) but local people appear to be opening new areas of shifting cultivation (ladangs) along a logging road closer to their village so all of the plots were still intact. We were also able to note where new ladangs were being opened and recorded if they were cut from primary forest, secondary forest or even if they had been cultivated twice before. Some of these areas will hopefully form a new set of plots in the future.
On the couple of days off, I took a walk to the waterfall and to an areas of kerangas forest to look at the pitcher plants that are found there. I also collected soils to examine changes in soil carbon under secondary succession and for a colleague, Leho Tedersoo, who is interested in global patterns of soil fungal diversity. I was to be joined by Lainie Qie from the University of Leeds who is working on a project with Oliver Phillips to look at long-term changes in 'undisturbed' forests in South-east Asia of which some of the primary forest plots at Barito Ulu are of interest to them. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to join me but will hopefully visit in August later this year.
The trip back downriver was equally interesting. Following a two-day wait for the MAF floatplane (who had to take a patient to hospital and them had a mechanic visiting to mend one of their floats) I arrived in Palangkaraya and went to the airport to buy a ticket for a flight back to Jakarta the next day and suddenly found myself being bustled on the next plane leaving in 15 minutes!
Many thanks to all the supporters of my Rockethub crowdfunding campaing and to the University of Leeds for financially supporting my work. Also to all my local collaborators and assistants from Borneo Orang-utan Survival Foundation.