Led by wildlife biologists James DV. Alvarez and Camila Meneses, the Museum of Natural History (MNH) continued its biodiversity expedition in Mt. Guiting-guiting, Sibuyan Island in Romblon last 22 May to 24 June 2017. Alvarez and Meneses is junior researcher and thesis student, respectively at the Museum. They are conducting their fieldwork as part of their manuscript data gathering for the Master’s degree in Wildlife Studies at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

Sibuyan Island has been identified by the MNH as a site for its current and future researches. “The museum has laid out short and long-term plans to gather data which will be important in managing the island’s biodiversity,” Alvarez reported.

“For this research expedition, we have targeted Mt. Guiting-guiting’s bats, amphibians, and reptiles,” he added. Alvarez and Meneses’ researches are being supported by The Rufford Foundation, a UK-registered charity which funds nature conservation projects across the developing world.

The focus of Alvarez’ thesis is on the activity and distribution patterns of bats and insects inside Mt. Guiting-guiting’s protected area. On the other hand, Camila Meneses is looking at the phylogeography of herpetofauna in the island and the identification of reptiles and amphibians that thrive in different elevations of the mountain.

As of now, the expedition team has made photographed references, reports, and guides of the specimens they have observed and identified. Alvarez said that “we have made and provided the photo-guides to the community so that the locals can already make use of the information”. The team is also currently conducting laboratory work, analyses, and continuing the write-ups on their recent fieldwork.

When asked about the significance of the research she is currently working on, Camila Meneses explained that her study may contribute in determining to which main island (Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao) is the so-called “Asia’s Galapagos Island” closely related in terms of the species of animals found in it. The possible assessment of new geographical distributions of herpetofauna and even the possible discovery of new species is crucial to herpetologists and biogeographers as they establish the connection of the island to the rest of the Philippine archipelago.

The long-term goal of the museum is to educate and involve locals in the biodiversity management of the island. This would include translating technical scientific terms into the local language, creating educational programs, establishing a biodiversity museum, and conducting biodiversity management training. According to the researchers, these can foster a balance between the locals need for sources of livelihood and natural resources in the island. Another component of this project is to encourage local researchers and students to join the efforts in updating local references and improving conservation efforts.

On the significance of the project, Alvarez explained that Mt. Guiting-guiting is relatively one, if not the largest, of the most intact and undisturbed forests in the Philippines. He added, “so that the people may be able to tap (Mt. Guiting-guiting’s) biodiversity as an alternative source of income, their low level of appreciation for the mountain’s resources should be changed”.

“Illegal logging is a relatively easier source of income but the island has very rich biodiversity which locals can also use for ecotourism -- a more environmentally-friendly source of livelihood,” Alvarez said.

“We aim to establish a holistic conservation program that will be led by the locals,” he added. The researchers are very hopeful that there will come a time that there won’t be a need for forest guards and patrols coming from outside the island because the people themselves have been equipped to guarding their own island.

The Museum became interested in Mt. Guiting-guiting’s biodiversity in 2015 when curators Dr. Aimee Lynn Dupo and Prof. Philip Alviola were invited by Peace Corps volunteer Isaac Pearlman to conduct a training on biodiversity management for the Mt. Guiting-guiting Natural Park.

For more information about the background of this project please read this related article.



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