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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: rodents (6)

Where the locals know best

Author
by Paing Soe
Publish date
26 November 2013
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Paing Soe is a Master of Environment student at the University of Melbourne.

This is the third post of an MV Blog mini-series celebrating the past, present and future of exploration on planet Earth and commemorating the adventures of Alfred Russel Wallace who died 100 years ago.

Dr. Kevin Rowe and Dr. Karen Rowe give their unreserved credit to the local people—the guides, the village heads and the Indonesian scientists—for the discoveries that they've made together in Sulawesi. But it took a bit of work to get them on side, according to Kevin. "They were not convinced that you can make a living doing what we do. So they were suspicious that we probably had a hidden agenda," he says.

Sulawesi field team A photo opportunity with the local team in Mamasa, West Sulawesi Province, May 2012.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

"On these mountains, only the local people really know what's there," says Kevin. The locals in Mamasa, a mountain town on the island of Sulawesi, had a name for almost every species, including animals that have not been described by science. Such knowledge was essential in the scientific discovery of an almost toothless rodent, Paucidentomys vermidax.

Man holding rodent Gherzhon, a local guide from Mamasa, West Sulawesi Province, holding the recently described Paucidentomys vermidax he helped collect.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On the last day of a trip in 2012, local guides caught a rare rat that in local tradition is believed to safeguard homes from fire. While some of the guides wanted to keep the rat for this reason, one guide argued how important it could be to the expedition and made sure it was shared with the scientists. The specimen turned out to be the only record of the species at the site. "That kind of support depends on building trust and relationships with local people," says Kevin.

"It's just impossible really, to go in there without a local partner," agrees Karen. Local scientists understand the cultural context, the bureaucracy, and are much more effective with exploration and conservation when it comes to biodiversity on these islands. Working with Anang Achmadi, Curator of Mammals, and Tri Haryoko, Curator of Birds, at the national museum of Indonesia, Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, their research programs have led to a strong collaboration between Museum Victoria and MZB.

The more that local scientists can work independently, the better. Kevin and Karen Rowe take this approach despite the fact that their own expeditions are going so well. "The future of biodiversity research in Indonesia lies with local scientists. Our hope is that we can promote their training and success," says Kevin.

Anang Achmadi, curator of mammals Anang Achmadi, Curator of Mammals at Museum Zoologicum Bogorinese in camp on Mount Gandangdeata near Mamasa, West Sulawesi Province, Sulawesi.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Check out the other posts in this mini-series: The Age of Exploration continues and Exploration of Sulawesi, Indonesia

Return from Mount Dako

Author
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. 

Discoveries in the jungle

Author
by Priscilla
Publish date
13 March 2013
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Priscilla is a Program Coordinator for Life Sciences and works on education programs at Melbourne Museum.

"There’s still plenty to discover in the jungles of Sulawesi," said Dr Kevin Rowe yesterday, via satellite phone from the jungles of Indonesia. He was phoning in to HQ – Museum Victoria, that is; he and his field crew are deep in the jungle, with email access a day’s hike away.

Dr Kevin reported that he and MV Ornithology Fellow, Dr Karen Rowe, have been enjoying great success on their current field trip. “To date, we’ve caught eight species of rats, two species of squirrels, five species of shrews and 13 species of birds”. He further explained that these mammals are all endemic, meaning that they are not to be found anywhere else in the world.

The crew has two camps set up at different altitudes. Kevin and Karen are camped at an altitude of 1600 metres, while Wayne Longmore, Museum Victoria’s Collection Manager of Terrestrial Vertebrates, is working with others at 400 metres above sea level.

While we here in Melbourne have been melting, during the hottest March since records began, Kevin and the crew have been experiencing endless rain. "Rain, rain and more rain, with days reaching a maximum of 16 degrees Celsius" said Kevin. "It’s a big cloud forest here, which leads to a lot of moss on the trees." And where there’s endless rain, there’s plenty of mud, making the work of our scientists tougher as they set out their 240 traps each night, ahead of collecting and checking them all the very next day and processing the data in daylight.

Birdsong metre demonstration The birdsong metre being demonstrated by museum volunteer, Bentleigh, during a trip to the Grampians.
Source: Museum Victoria

Dr Karen Rowe said that they had found many birds on this trip too, including honeyeaters, fantails and goshawks. Simply trying to sight these birds can be very difficult in thick jungle, however, so, to better understand the bird life of Sulawesi, she has been using a song meter to automatically record birdsong, which she can analyse later to determine which birds are living in the area.

The crew are in the jungle until this Saturday, when they will hike out at night. Through the rain, Kevin says "the views of the jungle from the lookouts are beautiful." However, they have only a few more days to enjoy the sights; they'll be back in Melbourne a week from Saturday. Meanwhile, there just may be some more discoveries yet to be made...


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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
  

The mammals of Sulawesi

Author
by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
6 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.

I recently returned from an expedition into the heart of Sulawesi's central mountain forests. Shrouded in the cool moisture of clouds, these forests appear to be made of moss erupting from the ground. Halfway between Asia and Australia, the native species on this island are neither Australian nor Asian but a unique mix of lineages from the two great continents.

Cloud forest of Sulawei The mountain rainforest of Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Together with Anang S. Achmadi, Curator of Mammals from the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense (the national museum of Indonesia) and a team of local guides, I hiked two days from the rice fields of Mamasa to a field camp at 2600 m in the mountains above.

the Sulawesi expedition team The Sulawesi expedition team.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

campsite in Sulawesi Base camp for the Sulawesi expedition.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Led by our local guides, including 84 year-old village-elder, Pak Daud, we encountered a pristine, primordial forest rich in biodiversity. Streams dissect the plateau spreading the daily afternoon showers across the landscape and to the fertile rice fields in the valleys below. The endangered mountain anoa (a pygmy water buffalo found only in the mountains of Sulawesi) run in large numbers, bear cuscus (relatives of Australia's brushtail possums) climb through the tree tops, dozens of orchid and pitcher plant species cling to the moss that covers everything, and a diverse assemblage of rodents survive in large numbers. We came in search of these rodents found nowhere else on earth, but which may help us understand the relationship between Australia's native rodents and Asia's.

hiking in Sulawesi Hiking through mountain terrain in Sulawesi.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Over three weeks of surveys in these remote forests, we detected 34 species of small mammals (< 1 kg), a healthy number for any forest. Consider that there are about the same number of small mammals across the entire State of Victoria. The rodents in these mossy mountain forests are characterised by a range of morphological oddities, such as giant woolly rats, Eropeplus, small arboreal mice, Haeromys, spiny rats, Maxomys, tiny arboreal squirrels, Prosciurillus, large terrestrial squirrels, Hyosciurus, and a collection of shrew rats that, like shrews, specialise on eating invertebrates. These shrew rats include two species of the soft-furred Tateomys and one species of the short-legged Melasmothrix.

Rodents of Sulawesi. Rodents of Sulawesi. Left: small arboreal mouse Haeromys montanus. | Right: giant woolly rat Eropeplus canus
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Two species of shrew rats from Sulawesi Two species of shrew rats from Sulawesi. Left: Tateomys rhinogradoides | Right: Tateomys macocercus
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We also detected two shrew rat genera that have not been seen since the 1970s including three individuals each of the puppy-faced Crunomys and the rare, worm-eating, gangly-legged Sommeromys, previously known from a single specimen.

Two genera of shrew rats from Sulawesi. Two general of shrew rats that were found for the first time since the 1970s. Above: Crunomys sp. | Below: Sommeromys sp.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

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