16 April 2010

Saving a living dinosaur in Singapore

"Imagine that a prehistoric creature exists here in Singapore, right under your very nose. Now, imagine that this same creature has been dying out slowly. Would you do everything in your power to save it from extinction?"
From the latest issue of My Green Space - Issue 5 Vol 2/2010, the NParks Newsletter, I found out more:

"For the Dipteris conjugata, also known as the sun fern, this scenario is not imagination – but reality. The sun fern dates back millions of years, and is known to have relatives that are preserved in million-year-old fossils found in various parts of the world. Its common name reportedly comes from the shape of its fronds, which resemble sunbursts.""The good news, though, is that a sizeable thicket of Dipteris was found thriving well within the Western Catchment area. This area is protected within the military zone, which means that this particular thicket is sufficiently protected.

The obscure location of the Dipteris ensures its safety from overzealous soldiers looking for camouflage. However, it may be under greater threat from various natural elements. Too much shade from neighbouring vegetation is one such factor. Other plants may also encroach upon its space, and deprive it of the necessary habitat that it requires to grow and thrive.

To help conserve this fern, NParks’ staff from the National Biodiversity Centre regularly check on the growth of the Dipteris at the Western Catchment. Using parangs and secateurs, they prune and clear the plants that may devour the fern, such as the Simpuh Air (Dillenia suffruticosa), the Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina), and the Resam (Dicranopteris linearis)."

This special plant was also featured in The status and distribution in Singapore of Dipteris conjugata Reinw. (Dipteridaceae). A. F. S. L. Lok, W. F. Ang and H. T. W. Tan. Pp. 339–345. [PDF, 2.55 MB] on the Nature in Singapore site of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.

From this paper I learnt that this beautiful fern was considered common in Singapore about 65 to 33 years ago. But is now it listed as 'Critically Endangered'. In recent history, four of the seven locations where they were found has been lost. Those in Labrador were wiped out in a landslide and have not returned, while those in other locations were lost to development: building of reservoirs, reclamation. Currently, all existing populations are within military areas.

Joseph Lai first saw this fern at Pulau Sarimbun in 2003. We were lucky to have Joseph Lai lead us on a trip to Pulau Sarimbun in 2005 to have a look at them. Dr Chua Ee Kiam posted about the ferns and our trip there on his website.

Other links to Dipteris conjugata

This issue of the NParks newsletter also has other intriguing articles about wildlife in Singapore!

Such as the special birds found at the Botanic Gardens.
Unfortunately, such sightings often lead to "groups of photographers, sometimes more than 20 together, apparently taking photos of nothing at all. They cluster behind their tripods, with an air of suppressed excitement. Their gigantic lenses are pointed into the dark areas under the shrubs of the Ginger Garden. And then, suddenly, the air is filled with the popping of flashguns."

Also get an update on the status of the wild jungle fowl of Pulau Ubin.
These ancestors of our domesticated chickens can fly!

And find out more about the adorable mudskippers of our mangroves!
Check out the My Green Space - Issue 5 Vol 2/2010 for all the photos and stories!

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