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DISPLAYING POSTS BY: Kevin Rowe (7)

Return from Mount Dako

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by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
2 April 2013
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Kevin is our Senior Curator of Mammals. He investigates the systematics, evolution and conservation biology of mammals with a particular interest in rodents.

On Saturday 23 March, we returned to Melbourne from our expedition to Sulawesi, Indonesia. Our last week we spent at the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense sorting specimens and preparing permits to return to Australia. A week earlier on 16 March, we left our camp in the forest of Mount Dako on the island of Sulawesi. We hiked all day from 1600 metres above sea level to the village of Malangga Selatan at 200 metres. Our team at 400 metres elevation also left camp and met us in the town of Toli Toli.

Sulawesi field team The mammal team and guides at 1600m elevation on the last day in the high camp on Mount Dako. Left to right: Kevin Rowe, Mardin Sarkam, Anang Achmadi, Jamudin, Jake Esselstyn, and Jamal.
Image: Karen Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It wasn’t easy to get to our camps on Mount Dako. After a week of permits in Jakarta, a week of scouting two mountains, and several days arranging local assistance, we finally arrived in Malangga Selatan ready to hike up the mountain. With over 300 kg of gear, our team of ten researchers, and fifty local men waiting to help us up the mountain, our local guide, Jamudin, suddenly expressed concern about water on the mountain. Apparently we were going farther into the forest than he was accustomed. We showed him the many drainages on the map that all fed into a big river to the east, but our only option to convince him was to send another scouting party two days hike up the mountain. The rest of our team and the porters set the low elevation camp. After two days, I reached the crest south of Mount Dako with our scouting party and made camp beside a small stream. That night the rain fell heavy for several hours and our tent flooded in the rain. We sought shelter with our guides under a tarp and spent several hours sitting on a small log until the rain subsided enough to return to our tent. The next day we sent two of our guides down the mountain to return with the rest of our team and our gear two days later. We moved our camp to a drier location farther up the ridge and enjoyed the only two days without rain for the rest of our trip.

Sulawesi moss forest Lush and wet lower montane moss forest near camp at 1600 metres elevation on Mount Dako.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Our high camp was set in lower montane rainforest with moss-covered trees including oaks and pandanus. Even when it’s not raining, clouds bring moisture to the forest and there is nearly constant dripping. Orchids and pitcher plants grow in the moisture of the moss. Spiny rotan erupt from tiny plants on the forest floor to tree size vines emerging from the canopy. They climb with the aid of curved thorns that grip human hands and bodies as easily as the trunks of trees.

Plants of Sulawesi Left: Spiny palm tree along the trail to the high camp on Mount Dako. Right: Pitcher plant in lower montane forest.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Over the last two weeks, our two camps documented 26 species of bats, rats and shrews and 31 species of birds in the forests of Mount Dako. In total, our surveys produced nearly 500 mammal and 150 bird records.

We documented a wide range of mammal species including the giant rat, Paruromys dominator, the small orange-brown rat, Maxomys musschenbroekii, the long-haired rat, Rattus xanthurus, the soft-furred rat, Bunomys penitus, and the small arboreal mouse, Haeromys minahassae. We documented two squirrels, the small arboreal, Prosciurillus murinus, and the long-nosed, terrestrial, Hyosciurus ileile. We also documented five species of shrews, including the dark-furred, Crocidura rhoditis.

Three Sulawesi mammals Three of the mammals recorded in Mt Dako's lower montane forests. Top: Giant rat, Paruromys dominator. Middle: The soft-furred rat, Bunomys penitus. Bottom: The long-nosed squirrel, Hyosciurus ileile.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Many endemic and beautiful bird species were documented as well, including the Green-backed Kingfisher, Lesser Sulawesi Honeyeater, Sulawesi and Hair-crested Drongos, Malia, Philippine Scrubfowl, Yellow-flanked Whistler, Fiery-browed Starling, Golden-mantled Racquet-tail, and two species of small hawks, the Spot-tailed Goshawk and Vinous-breasted Sparrowhawk.  Many species of fruit-doves were also noted, including the Sulawesi Ground-dove, Purple-crowned Fruit-dove and Black-naped Fruit-dove. Population densities of several species were high, including the Yellow-sided Flowerpecker. This species is in the same family as Australia’s Mistletoebird, which is often only found singly or in pairs. An exciting find was the large Ashy Woodpecker. Sulawesi represents a limit to the distribution of woodpeckers, which are found world-wide with the exception of the Australo-Pacific region.

Two birds of Sulawesi Left: The Green-backed Kingfisher found in lower montane forest on Mount Dako. Right: The endemic Malia found at 1600 m on Mount Dako.
Image: Karen Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Our return to Melbourne is only the beginning of our studies as now we begin the cleaning and detailed examination of specimens, including genetic sequencing and comparison to described specimens to confirm identifications and examine geographic variation within species. Our collections from Mount Dako are a rare collection from the western portion of the northern peninsula of Sulawesi. They will help us understand the diversity, distribution, and origin of species on the island of Sulawesi and its significance in the biogeography of the Indo-Australian region. That understanding will emerge through our research at Museum Victoria and our collaboration with the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense and our international partners in Canada and the USA. 

Setting camp in the forests of Mount Dako

Author
by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
27 February 2013
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Kevin is our Senior Curator of Mammals. He investigates the systematics, evolution and conservation biology of mammals with a particular interest in rodents.

Greetings from the province of Sulawesi Tengah (Central Sulawesi). Last Friday (22 Feb), my colleague, Anang S. Achmadi, and I returned to the city of Palu. Over the past week we hiked into forests around Mount Sojol and Mount Dako along the western coast of the northern peninsula of Sulawesi.

river in Sulawesi Kuala Besar river east of Malannga Selatan in the foothills of Mount Dako. Our low camp is set along this river.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Our hike into Mount Sojol led us to exceptional lowland rainforest in the river valley, but we were uncertain about where we would set a high camp along the steep slopes of the mountain. After three days of hiking into the forests around Mount Dako, near the city of Toli Toli, we found a low camp in lowland rainforest along the river, Kuala Besar, at 300 metres elevation. We also found a high camp on the Mount Dako plateau at 1600 metres. The vast plateau stretching for several kilometers north and east of Mount Dako is covered in old growth rainforest.

Lowland rainforest in Sulawesi Lowland rainforest near 1000 metres on the trail up to our high elevation camp Mount Dako plateau.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

sky and mountains in Sulawesi The view west towards Toli Toli Bay from the trail up Mount Dako at near 700 metres elevation.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We returned to Toli Toli on Sunday after collecting supplies and the rest of our field team. We are now a party of ten, including scientists and students from Museum Victoria, Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, Padang University in Sumatra, the University of California, Berkeley, and McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. On Monday, we reported to the local police and purchased food and supplies from the Pasar (market).

Three guides in Sulawesi Our guides on our third day of hiking around Mount Dako. Left to right: Heri, Jamudin and Madi.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Field team in Palu Part of our assembled team in Palu, Sulawesi Tengah, before heading to Toli Toli and our hike into camp. Left to right: Jake Esselstyn (McMaster University), Karen Rowe (Museum Victoria), Jim Patton (UC Berkeley), Carol Patton (UC Berkeley), and Wayne Longmore (Museum Victoria).
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On Tuesday, we met in the village of Malangga Selatan that is the last village before the western foothills of Mount Dako. Assisted by the strength of 60 local men we began the hike from the village at 200 metres into our camps. The team at low elevation reached their camp at 400 metres by Tuesday evening. To reach the high camp, we climbed all day to reach 1200 metres elevation and stopped for the night on the only patch of flat ground before the plateau. On Wednesday, we continued climbing for several more hours to reach our camp on the plateau at 1600 metres elevation. We will remain in camp until 16 March when we will hike back down to the village. Over the next 18 days we will document all the birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians we encounter.


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Field team reaches Mount Sojol

Author
by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
20 February 2013
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Kevin is our Senior Curator of Mammals. He investigates the systematics, evolution and conservation biology of mammals with a particular interest in rodents.

Greetings from the province of Sulawesi Tengah (Central Sulawesi). Last Friday 15 Feb, I flew from Jakarta to the city of Palu near the base of the northern peninsula of Sulawesi. I am accompanied by my colleague, Anang S. Achmadi, curator of mammals at Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense.

Man at airport Anang S. Achmadi prepares to board the flight from Jakarat to Palu.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On Saturday, Anang and I hired a driver in Palu and drove 200 km up the west coast along the Trans-Sulawesi Highway to villages around Mount Sojol (3050 m) where we are seeking a suitable field camp. An ideal camp will be set in healthy forest, have access to water, and as much flat ground as possible (steep ridges do not make for the best trapping). Our objective is to find two camps, one at low elevation (<1000 m) and a second at high elevation (>1000 m). Different species live at different elevations so to maximise the diversity of species in our surveys we try to run two camps concurrently.

Saturday afternoon we arrived in the villages west of Mount Sojol. We met with local elder Pak Waasire's son-in-law who arranged for a guide to take us into the forests that surround the mountain. On Sunday morning we met Sam, our guide, in the cacao plantations west of Mount Sojol. We hiked for three hours through cacao plantations and reached the last house at the end of trail in a thicket of ferns. Sam cut our way through ferns and we descended steeply into lowland rainforest. A hundred metres down the slope the rain began to fall and two of Sulawesi's crested black macaques, Macaca nigra, protested in the trees above us.

Men walking through Sulawesi forest Our guide, Sam, followed by Anang S. Achmadi and our driver, Aziz, start the hike towards the forests of Mount Sojol.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We continued down the slope for another hour and reached a flat area at the confluence of the two large rivers of the valley. We stopped and ate lunch while the rain poured down and we sheltered under a rock. We left our lunch and followed the river down stream hiking through intact rainforest for an hour and a half before reaching cacao plantations. The forest here is spectacular, a rare example of lowland forest left on Sulawesi and there is ample room for a camp. However, we are uncertain about the location of a high camp. Sam suggests that an additional full days hike uphill will bring us to another camp. We returned to the village and bid farewell to Sam.

Two men at river crossing Stopping at a river crossing, Sam points out a Sulawesi hornbill, Pnelopides exarhatus, to Anang S. Achmadi.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Before we can start our camp in Sojol we must wait for the arrival of the remainder of our team who just arrived in Jakarta on Saturday (16 Feb) from Australia, Canada and the USA. On Monday, they began the paperwork that we started last week with RISTEK, Imigrasi, Polri and Dalam Negeri. While we waited for their arrival, Anang and I drove another 250 km north to the town of Toli-Toli to scout the forests around Mount Dako (2240 m) on the north coast of Sulawesi just where the northern peninsula turns east. On Monday afternoon we arrived in Toli-Toli and continued north to Kecamatan Galang where we turned east towards the mountains. We followed the road to the end where we met two locals and arranged for a guide to take us up the trail the next morning. On Tuesday we hiked several hours into lowland forest and will post the results of our hike when we are next in contact.

Sulawesi rainforest River where we stopped for in lowland rainforest on the west slopes of Mount Sojol.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We will decide which site is most suitable for our team before this weekend (23 Feb) when we will rendezvous with them in Palu. Together we will drive back up the coast and hike into our field camp for nearly 3 weeks of remote surveys. We will post more photos next week and you can track our movements on the Sulawesi Field Team Google map.


View Sulawesi Field Team in a larger map 

Preparing for Sulawesi fieldwork

Author
by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
13 February 2013
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Kevin is our Senior Curator of Mammals. He investigates the systematics, evolution and conservation biology of mammals with a particular interest in rodents.

Greetings from Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense (the national zoological museum of Indonesia) in the Indonesian province of Jawa Barat (West Java). This week my colleagues and I are preparing for our expedition to the island of Sulawesi. As always, I am hosted by my friend and collaborator, Anang S. Achmadi, curator of mammals at MZB.

In addition to packing gear, I need to visit several government offices this week to obtain travelling permits. On Monday, I reported to the Indonesian office of research permits, RISTEK, in Jakarta.

Kevin Rowe with RISTEK team in Jakarta Kevin C. Rowe (fifth from left) and Anang S. Achmadi (third from left) with the RISTEK team in their Jakarta office on Monday, 11 February.
Image: Jacob Esselstyn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

RISTEK is my official sponsor while I am in Indonesia and they approved my proposed research prior to my departure from Melbourne. On Monday RISTEK provided letters of support to take to Imigrasi (Immigration), Polri (National Police), and Dalam Negeri (Ministry of Home Affairs). Each of these offices will provide documents to allow our travel in Indonesia on research activities.

Man in office Anang S. Achmadi reviews the permit procedures at the Polri office in Jakarta.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On Monday, we successfully submitted our paperwork at both Imigrasi and Polri (Polri PICS). This is my fourth trip to Indonesia for research and the improvement in efficiency over this time has been dramatic. Imigrasi and Polri have seen major renovations and the experience this year is remarkably stress free.

On Tuesday, I moved to Bogor (about an hour south of Java) to work at the museum with Anang while Imigrasi and Polri process my paperwork. Here Anang and I inventoried our gear and reviewed specimens to help us with identifications in the field.

Kevin outside MZB, Jakarta Kevin in front of Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria

Kevin holding rat specimen Kevin examines a specimen of the spiny, lowland Sulawesi shrew-rat, Echiothrix centrosa, collected in 1975 and held in the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense collection. The species has hardly been seen since, and is a primary target for the expedition.
Image: Anang Achmadi
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Wednesday I returned to Jakarta and collected my travelling documents from Imigrasi and Polri. I also visited Dalam Negeri to apply for my travelling permits from their office. By Friday, my paperwork should be complete and Anang and I will fly to the city of Palu in Sulawesi Tengah (central Sulawesi) where the next stage of our expedition begins.

The team are sending us daily GPS coordinates to let us track their progress on a Google map of the expedition.


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MV scientists head back to Sulawesi

Author
by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
7 February 2013
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Kevin is our Senior Curator of Mammals. He investigates the systematics, evolution and conservation biology of mammals with a particular interest in rodents.

I'm about to depart on the next expedition to the high mountains of Sulawesi along with MV Ornithology Fellow Karen Rowe, and MV Collection Manager of Terrestrial Vertebrates Wayne Longmore. We'll be surveying birds, rodents, bats and shrews, in areas virtually unknown to science.

Anang Achmadi Kevin Rowe in montane forest on the island of Sulawesi.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria

Karen Rowe Karen Rowe conducting fieldwork in lower montane forest on the island of Sulawesi.
Image: Peter Smissen
Source: Museum Victoria

Wayne Longmore N. Wayne Longmore with a Sulawesi Kingfisher (Ceyx fallax) in lowland rainforest.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

An evolutionary cross-roads between Australia and Asia, the Indonesian island of Sulawesi is home to mostly endemic species (those found nowhere else) and its mix of dense equatorial rainforest and mountain peaks of some 3,000 metres lends a profusion of life rarely seen worldwide.

Our primary target on the coming expedition is Mount Sojol on Sulawesi's northern peninsula. We know from observational bird surveys that vertebrate diversity is probably quite high, but there have been virtually no specimens collected from this part of Indonesia. Like many mountains on Sulawesi, only the local people really know what is there.

However, before we can start any surveys there's a lot to do. This week the team is packing equipment and supplies needed to collect and preserve specimens. On Saturday, I fly to Jakarta.

I'll spend my first week in Indonesia completing visa and permit paperwork with visits to several government offices. Between paperwork, I will prepare supplies and examine specimens with collaborators at Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense (the national zoological museum of Indonesia).

Once the paperwork is complete, I will fly to Palu, Sulawesi and will travel 200 km up the Trans-Sulawesi Highway to the village of Siboa. From Siboa, my collaborators and I will meet with local people including the village head, or kepala desa, to obtain their support and approval. With the help of local guides we will hike into the mountains where we will spend a week searching for suitable field camps. Karen, Wayne, and other collaborators from the USA will meet me in Palu after a week of completing their own paperwork in Jakarta. They will make the trek into the forest camp and begin the process of surveying the unique birds and mammals of Mount Sojol, Sulawesi.

In the sixth week, we will all return to Palu to share the results of the inventory with the Indonesian Department of Forestry before flying back to Jakarta. There we'll spend a final week packing specimens and obtaining permits to export the specimens to Australia where they will join the state collection at Museum Victoria.

The Sulawesi research trip is part of a multi-year project supported by the National Geographic Society, the Australian Pacific Science Foundation, the Ian Potter Foundation and the Hugh D T Williamson Foundation that includes key research partners Museum Victoria, the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense (National Museum of Indonesia), the Field Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, and McMaster University. The multi-national team comprises Canadian, American, Australian and Indonesian researchers.

The team's announcement that they had discovered a remarkable new rodent genus – an almost toothless, worm-eating rat, Paucidentomys vermidax – made international headlines last year.

Paucidentomys vermidax New genus and species, Paucidentomys vermidax
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria

Skull of P. vermidax Skull of new genus and species, Paucidentomys vermidax, the first rodent discovered with no molars.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
  

Wonderful Wallacea

Author
by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
12 January 2012
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Kevin is the Senior Curator of Mammals at Museum Victoria. He reports on his recent expedition to the mountains of Sulawesi, Indonesia in this series of blog posts.

Last Sunday was the birthday of Alfred Russel Wallace who, along with Darwin, co-founded the theory of natural selection. As Ursula reported, Wallace's expedition through the Malay Archipelago (modern-day Indonesia) also prompted him to develop the field of biogeography and to define the zoogeographical regions of our planet; that is, where groups of animals are found and why.

World map showing the zoogeographical regions. Wallace's world map showing the zoogeographical regions in different colours.
Image: A.R. Wallace
Source: Copyright expired. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
 

Biogeography proposes that the species native to a particular region are determined by geographic processes such as vicariance (isolation) and dispersal (colonisation). Natural selection then drives species to evolve traits suited to survival and reproduction in their environments available in their geographic context. Biogeography and natural selection combined often result in species from different regions converging on similar morphological solutions to similar selective pressures.

Consider the mammals of Australia, which are the product of millions of years of natural selection acting on a set of species determined by biogeography. Australia, along with New Guinea, comprises the continental shelf of Sahul that today, as well as in Wallace's time, is separated by the Indonesian archipelago from the Asian continental shelf, Sunda. During low sea levels of the Pleistocene (the last 2 million years), Australia, New Guinea, and adjacent islands were one continuous landmass as were Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, and Borneo on the Asian side. Between them was Sulawesi, the Moluccan islands and the Lesser Sunda islands (Nusa Tenggara) all separated by deep ocean channels. This region at the interchange between Asia and Australia is referred to as Wallacea.

Map of Sunda and Sahul Map of Sunda and Sahul and the Wallace Line, the Lydekker Line and the Weber Line.
Image: Maximilian Dörrbecker
Source: Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 from Wikimedia Commons.
 

85 million years ago Australia was connected to Antarctica and via Antarctica to South America. When a meteorite crashed into the Yucatan peninsula of North America 65 million years ago annihilating the dinosaurs (except a few feathered and crocodilian ones), Australia was already starting to drift away from Antarctica. For 40 million years Australia drifted in isolation and only about 10 million years ago began to collide with Asia. The mammals that made this journey survive today as the marsupials and monotremes that are unique to Australia and New Guinea. The marsupials have evolved to fill many ecological roles with adaptations similar to placental mammals on other continents, a process driven by natural selection leading to convergent evolution.

Convergent evolution between the Thylacine and the Red Wolf. An example of convergent evolution. The Thylacine (left) and the Red Wolf (right) occupy similar roles in the ecosystem and have similar dog-like characteristics, even though they belong to entirely different groups of animals.
Image: Left: Heath Warwick | Right: ucumari
Source: Left: Museum Victoria | Right: Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 from ucumari.
 

The native terrestrial mammals of Australia, however, are not just the result of isolation but are also descended from a select group of intrepid colonisers from Asia. These are the native bats and rats that account for nearly half of the mammal species of Australia. The rats are remarkable because they are the only non-flying, terrestrial mammals to colonize Australia before humans and they did it twice; once 5 million years ago (Rowe et al, 2008) and again 1 million years ago (Rowe et al, 2011). Both colonisers clearly came from Asian sources but the details of how they crossed multiple ocean channels and archipelagos are still unclear. In part this is hindered by our limited understanding of rat diversity from Wallacea, a condition that I and my colleagues endeavour to correct with our recent expeditions to Sulawesi.

Links:

More on convergent evolution of marsupial and placental mammmals

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