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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: sulawesi (9)

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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Comments (3)

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

The mammals of Sulawesi

Author
by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
6 January 2012
Comments
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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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