Indigenous tropical ecology

Indigenous tropical ecology

TREE vol. 4, no. 3, March 1989 Indigenous Tropical Ecology Two major works on the ecology of Sumatra’ and Sulawesi? two of the world’s great tropica...

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TREE vol. 4, no. 3, March


Indigenous Tropical Ecology Two major works on the ecology of Sumatra’ and Sulawesi? two of the world’s great tropical islands, have appeared relatively recently. These volumes represent the rarest of genres in tropical ecology: works of indigenous origin with an indigenous audience in mind. An examination of these exciting books prompts us to examine a wider literature on tropical ecology.

It is arguable that most of ecology’s great ‘truths’ stem from work in the tropics: without the Galapagos and continental South America, Darwin’s3 data base would have been greatly impoverished; without the Malay Archipelago, Wallace4 would be unheard of! Tropical ecol6gy in one guise or another has been with us for a long time, but activity in this broadly defined area has never exceeded that currently going on, either in quantity or importance. At the risk of parody, we note a taxonomy of ecological styles in approaches to tropical ecological systems; each, we hasten to add, with advantages and disadvantages, and each undoubtedly contributing important information at one time or another. Like most taxonomies, ours is hierarchical. Two levels are of special relevance: we define a number of basic ‘genera’, recognizing several ‘species’ within each. We illustrate this classification with just a few of many appropriate references. The ‘Colonial Legacy’approach This genus is largely a European phenomenon. Rapidly becoming endangered, it reflects the close ties that have existed and, to a degree, continue to exist between a number of Western European countries and their erstwhile, and largely tropical, colonial empires. Three subtaxa are or have been common. (7) Ex-colonial research This consisted of work by scientists who had spent much of their working lives in the English or French (or other) colonies (or in successor organizations located in newly independent ex-colonies). Those who had been foresters, agriculturalists, medical entomologists and academics in tropical countries make up the greater part of this class. Most such workers summarize their tropical knowledge as magna opera written after the early retirement that was such an attractive part of the colonial service+*. Roger Kitching and Charles Clarke are at the Dept of EcosystemManagement, University of New England,Armidale, NSW2351,Australia. 0

Roger Kitching and Charles Clarke (2) The aid-funded short visit The proliferation of aid programmes funded by developed countries has led to this newer category of research. Scientists with greater or lesser amounts of previous tropical experience are contracted to carry out short pieces of research, often in conjunction with an organization in the receiving country. The duration of such projects varies, but two to six months would not be uncommonsvlO. (3) The short expedition This is a taxon that originated in the United Kingdom but has spread to the rest of the world either by invasion or contagion. Such expeditions are sometimes the only tropical experience ever for the participants, in other cases they are the beginning of lifelong involvement. Although by their very nature both short term and elementary, nevertheless a surprisingly large amount of faunistic and basic natural historical work has been carried out in this fashion”-13. Destinations change with time and accessibility: 20 years ago Africa and the Indian subcontinent were among the favourite destinations; latterly attention has turned to south-east Asia, Papua New Guinea and various tropical oceanic islands.

(2) The grant-based tropical field sites programs With the expansion of National Science Foundation and other funding for basic research within the United States, it became possible for some US-based ecologists to regard tropical locations as their ‘normal’ field sites’%**. This approach probably grew from the American practice of spending summers at field stations within the US, remote from the campuses or other institutions a much less common practice elsewhere in the Western World. It has also led, in part at least, to a subgroup of compendium and proceedings volumes edited by US scientists***5. (3) The new expatriate-based activities In recent years a number of American and other scientists have taken up positions in institutions in developing countries and have accordingly begun major research projects in these locations*&**. Often they carry Western scientific mores with them to these projects, but nevertheless have the advantage of a longterm presence in an area and (usually) local support.

The ‘American Conscience’genus This very vigorous major taxon, probably originating in the Peace Corps years, has been the most prominent of the groups of scientists involved in tropical, principally neotropical, research. Smaller efforts mounted by scientists of other Western nationalities, notably British and German, may fit best in this category (probably reflecting parallel evolution, not phylogeny). Again, we can detect three ‘species’ within the genus. (1) The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute products and clones The establishment of the STRI in Panama allowed ready and safe access for hundreds of students to tropical rain forests and other ecosystems. A resident staff and shortterm employees naturally took advantage of this situation to present their own (and their studpnts’) data on a large variety of animals and plants with which they were in regular contactl4-16. This gave rise to invaluable long-term data collecting exercises17,18, which remain almost unique for tropical systems.

1989. Elsev~er Science PubllshersLtd.(UK) 016%5347/89/$02.00

Rain forest, Sulawesi. Photograph courtesy of ICBPWF. 85

TREE vol. 4, no. 3, March 1989

Fig. 1. Macrocephalon

maleo, Sulawesi. Photograph courtesy of ICBPNVWF

The‘IndigenousPush’ The final major taxon is work carried out by nationals or adopted nationals in a region - often based on overseas training, but with a distinctive and important local flavour determined by national priorities, intended audience, available resources, field sites and so forth. At least two subtaxa are apparent. (1) ‘Western’ tropical activities We distinguish this category as citizens of the only ‘Western’ country with truly tropical land area. In the last decade, a considerable expansion of tropical ecological work has occurred in northern Australia2+31, associated both with increasing global interest in tropical ecology and with increased concern about conservation and development issues in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. (2) Activities in developing countries At last we come to the category that engendered the present introspection. Recently a trickle of major works has emerged from research carried out largely by nationals and long-term residents of some of tropical developing the major countriess*-35. Works from Indiaa*, parts of South America33, Malaysia34 and West Africa35 come to mind, in addition to the two volumes from Indonesia’,*. In many ways it is the health of research in this category that is crucial to the continuing existence and integrity of tropical ecosystems. Only this sort of work circumvents the accusation of being either patronizing or exploitative (intentionally or otherwise). Indigenous ecologists must necessarily have a close affinity for the ecological problems in their own regions and are 86

best able to formulate appropriate strategies for the solution of environmental problems there. SumatraandSulawesi Major ecological works produced in and for developing countries have special desiderata and these are well exemplified by the books on Sumatra’ and Sulawes? by Whitten and his colleagues. For ease of reference we shall refer to the two works and Sulawesi respecas Sumatra tively. A little background information is appropriate here. Both works were produced under Indonesian government programs: Sumatra under United Nations Development Program funding, and Sulawesiwith the support of the Canadian International Development Agency. Both were coordinated by Anthony Whitten of Dalhousie University. Each volume has been produced in both English and Bahasa Indonesia. They form part of a projected series, the next volume of which was to have been The Ecology of Java and Bali, sadly now postponed due to a drying up of Canadian funds for the project. Both books contain the full range of ecological topics, from biogeography to community ecology, from behaviour to population regulation, that one would expect in the usual Western texts. Throughout both volumes ecological concepts are illustrated by fascinating and thought-provoking local examples, presented in lucid simple terms (from which many other authors could benefit). Here we learn of the maleo fowl (Fig. 1) and the cave fruit bat, of tropical shore zonation and mangrove dynamics, of pitcher plants and dipterocarps, of babirusa

and anoa. For these and many other reasons the non-Indonesian ecologist and naturalist will mine these volumes endlessly. But it is not for the similarities with the best of nontropical works that these books are of special note. It is the differences to which we wish to draw special attention. The first point that emerges through examination of Sumatra and Sulawesi is the blurring of the distinction between ecology and related and supporting biological and geographical sciences. Both volumes, for instance, contain numerous illustrations of animals and plants. This would be quite superfluous in a Western text but is obviously appropriate here for both indigenous and foreign audiences. There are no readily available illustrated floras and faunas for Sumatra or Sulawesi, nor is there a background knowledge of systematics and natural history within the indigenous audience. This systematic content is extended in Sulawesi as a series of appended keys to a variety of organisms from seagrasses to tree ferns, from mud skippers to fruit bats. In addition both volumes contain substantial geomorphological and geographical background information, again reflecting the need for each volume to be self-contained rather than being presented in a context of readily available supporting works - as would generally be the case in Europe, North America or Australia. This blurring of distinctions is also evident at other levels. The division between human and non-human ecology is simply not made. References to human involvement in ecosystems occur throughout both volumes: parenthetically in some cases, centrally in others. Indonesia, as much as or more than any other tropical country, has few if any pristine ecosystems. Even in the great rain forests of Kalimantan, Sulawesi or lrian Jaya the signs of long-term human occupancy are everywhere: the curious burial slots remaining in cliff faces in northern Sulawesi, bamboo and rattan snares for bush rats, evidence of bamboo cutting, endless hunting and foraging trails in the deepest forests. The past/present dichotomy is also blurred. Few Western ecological texts would contain accounts of prehistory and history, and yet each of these works presents clear, concise summaries in these areas, providing the necessary background information for a better understanding of present problems and phenomena. The special circumstances surrounding the patchwork of artificial and

TREE vol. 4, no. 3, March 1989

natural ecosystems and their present use in the Minahasa region of Sulawesi, for example, makes no sense unless one understands the role of the Dutch colonial agriculturalists in this particular area, and the subsequent political history of the region. The Minahasa example notwithstanding, the residents of these regions have not suffered the extended period of alienation from their surroundings that was part and parcel of the Industrial Revolution in the West. Nevertheless, burgeoning populations and the impact of external influences, notably multinational resource industries, exploitative rapidly dispel any Rousseauesque ‘noble savage’ impressions. The synthetic and analytical skills that constitute ecology are nowhere more apposite and, once again, the clear and self-contained presentations in Sumatra and Sulawesi are not only models for future work but contain a resource of immense value to the region itself. The simple summary of references that each contains will save other workers months of labour among lesser-known library holdings. Lastly, and in the same vein, there is no ready distinction between the fundamental and applied aspects of the discipline in these works. What is particularly welcome is that fundamental aspects of the various phenomena are described in a way that some other tropical texts have tended to ignore. Fascinating accounts of forest succession, forest mineral cycling and island biogeography rub shoulders with accounts of agroecosystems, the impacts of transmigration, endangered species and pollution monitoring. Perhaps nowhere else is the interweaving of fundamental and applied problems so clearly shown, with the absolute interdependence of the one on the other unequivocally demonstrated. So Sumatra and Sulawesi rep-

resent tropical ecology texts plus. Each volume is a mine of information on local natural history and ecology, well integrated and clearly explained. This alone gives the volumes a relevance and attraction far beyond their eponymic regions. As source books for those interested in or concerned about tropical ecosystems, they take their place alongside Whitmore’s work* on tropical forests and the many fine compendia published by Junk in their series

Monographiae biologicae (see, for example, Gressitt on New Guinea36, Stoddart on the Seychelles37, Fernando on Sri Lanka3*).

But there is much more to these works than that. They represent perhaps the first handbooks produced locally in the tropics for use locally. As such they have a style of their own: they must have an impact on environmental management decisions in Indonesia as well as acting to increase local awareness of ecology and its immediate relevance. They set the agenda for further research at all levels of participation. That the production of more volumes in this series is now uncertain is a major setback, not only for the people of Indonesia but for tropical ecology in general.

1 Whitten,A.J., Damanik, S.J.,Anwar, J. and Hisyam, N. (1984) The Ecology of Sumatra, Gadjah Mada University Press 2 Whitten, A.J., Mustafa, M. and Henderson, G.S. (1987) The Ecology of Sulawesi. Gadiah Mada Universitv Press 3 Darwin; C. (1’869) On the Origin of Species, John Murray 4 Wallace, A.R. (1869) The Malay Archipelago. Macmillan 5 Christophers, S.R. (1960) Aedes aegypti (I): The Yellow Fever Mosquito: its Life History, Bionomics and Structure, Cambridge University Press 6 Owen, D. (1971) Tropicai Butterflies. Oxford University Press 7 Richards, P.W. (1952) The Tropical Rain Forest: An Ecological Study, Cambridge University Press 8 Whitmore,T. (1984) Tropical Rain Forests of the Far East, Oxford University Press 9 Rogers, D.J. (1979) J. Anim. Ecoi. 48, 825-849 10 Read, A.J., van Waerebeek, K., Reyes, J.C.. McKinnon. J.S. and Lehman, L.C. (1988) Biol. Cons. 46,53-70 11 Sutton, S.L. (1966) Trans. R. Entomoi. Sot. London 118,51-72 12 Eckrick, M. and Neuweiler, G. (1988) J. Zoo/. London 215.729-737 13 Kitching, R.L. (1987) Malay Nat. J. 41, 1-12 14 Wilson, D.S. (1974) Biotropica3, 187-193 15 Franks, N.R. (1986) Behav. Ecoi. Sociobioi. 18,425-429 16 Schneider, D.C. (1985) J. Exp. Mar. Bioi. Ecoi. 92,19-27 17 Hubbell, S.L. and Foster, R.B. (1986) in Colonization, Succession and Stability (Gray, A., ed.), pp. 39!5-411, Blackwell Scientific 16 Wolda, H. (1986) in Memorias de/ Taller de Entomoiogia, Panam (Pinochet, J. and von Lindemann. G., eds), pp. i 23-l 25, CATIE 19 Odum. H.T. (1970) A Trooicai Rain Forest: A Study of iriadiatibn and Ecology of El Verde, Puerto Rico, US Atomic Energy Commission 20 Sinclair, A.R.E. and Norton-Griffiths, M., eds (1977) Serengeti: Dynamics of an Ecosystem, University of Chicago Press 21 Shapiro, A.M. (1978) J. N. Y. Entomoi. sot. 86,45-50

22 Seifert, R.P. (1984) in Ecological Communities: Conceptual issues and the Evidence (Strong, D.S., Simberloff, D., Abele, L.G. and Thistle, A.B., eds), pp. 54-63, Princeton University Press 23 Galley, F.B., ed. (1983) Ecosystems of the World, Vol. 14a: Tropical Rainforest Ecosystems, Elsevier 24 Leigh, E.G., Stanley,A. and Windsor, Tropical D.M., eds (1982) The Ecoiogyofa Forest, Smithsonian Institution Press 25 UNESCO/UNEP/FAO (1978) Tropical Forest Ecosystems, UNESCO 26 Brown, K.S. Jr (1981) Annu. Rev. Entomoi. 26,427456 27 Janzen, D.H., ed. (1983) Costa Rican Natural History, University of Chicago Press 26 Beaver, R.A. (1985) Ecoi. Entomoi. 10, 241-248 29 Ridpath, M.G. and Corbett, L.K., eds (1985) Proc. Ecol. Sot. Aust. 13 30 Kitching, R.L. ed. (1988) Proc. Ecoi. Sot. Aust. 15 31 Kikkawa, J. and Webb, L.E.,Austraiian Tropical Rain Forests: Science, Values and Meaning, Basil Walby Publishing (in press) 32 Puri, G.S. (1960) indian Forest Ecology, Oxford Book Company 33 Sarmiento, G. and Monasterio, M. (1971) Ecoiogia de ias Sabanas de America Tropical, Universidad de 10s Andes 34 Luping, D.M., Wen, C. and Dingley, E.R. (1978) Kinabaiu: Summit of Borneo, Sabah Society 35 Ewusie. J.Y. (1980) Elements of Tropical &oiog& Heinemann 36 Gressitt, J.L., ed. (1981) Biogeography and Ecology of New Guinea, Junk 37 Stoddart, D.R. (1984) Biogeography and Ecology of the Seychelles islands, Junk 38 Fernando, C.H. (1984) Ecology and Biogeography in Sri Lanka, Junk Note The Ecology of Sumatra and The Ecology of Suiawesi are available in the United States and Canada from Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA 01375-0407, USA, the rest of the New World from EDIREP. 5500 Ridae Oak Drive. Austin. TX 76731, USA. Prices for the volumes are, respectively, US$22 (paper) and US!$45 (cloth), and US$25 (paper) and US$50 (cloth).