The mammals of Sulawesi

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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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dieuwertje 25 February, 2012 02:09
wow, what a adventure! I'm going tot Sulawesi this summer (for the mammals and birds) and I'm searching for a field guide or list of mammals that live there. does anybody has a tip? THANKS
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Rudi Haslauer 14 January, 2012 20:47
Yesterday I found this report and was astonished on the excellent photos of Eropeplus, Crunomys and so on. This unique Murid diversity on Sulawesi is overwhelming. Inspirid by this blog I will continue with obtaining more information on the Sulawesi`s Mammals. Guy G. Musser`s publications has inspired my interest into this Mammals considerably, years ago.
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Don Cavey 10 January, 2012 10:23
Thanks for all of the information. This is so interesting.
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