The UPLB Museum of Natural History’s Center for Caves Ecosystems Research (CAVES) Program has gained the approval of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Protected Area Superintendent Office to continue biodiversity surveys inside the Pamitinan Protected Landscape (PPL) in Rodriguez, Rizal.
The CAVES Program’s request to continue its research activities in PPL was granted after the group presented its initial survey findings to the members of the PPL’s Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) last 10 November 2022. The PAMB is composed of representatives from various sectors such as the local government units, private, academe, non-government, and people’s organizations, and led by the Director of the regional DENR.
MNH’s CAVES Program is funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through its Accelerated R&D Program for Capacity Building of Research and Development Institutions and Industrial Competitiveness – Niche Centers in the Regions for Research and Development (NICER) program.
For two years now, members of the CAVES program have conducted faunal, floristic, and terrestrial arthropod diversity assessment of cave and karst areas in the CALABARZON region, as well as high-end studies such as phenomic, genomic, and metagenomic analysis of the microbiome of bat gut and guano from caves in the region.
Interesting results of the floristic assessment and arthropod diversity study
During the meeting with the PAMB, the museum’s researchers presented the preliminary outputs of their surveys and research activities within the protected landscape for the past months. The presentation is required by the PAMB, which issued a research and collection permit for the program the year before.
A 608-hectare area nestled in the Sierra Madre Mountain range; the PPL boasts rich flora. A team of botanists led by Michelle San Pascual, UPLB MNH researcher, was able to document and identify various species of mosses, ferns, and seed plants present in the PPL. The identified species were also classified based on their conservation status.
The team was also able to derive interesting information from their collections. For instance, the team observed 17 begonia species within PPL, four of which has Rizal province as their type locality. “This means that these four species of begonia, which were previously unknown to science, were collected from Rizal,” explained San Pascual.
The team also documented several plant species named after the province of Rizal and/or Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero. Examples were the Philippine-native Impatiens rizaliana, Hoya odorata ssp. rizaliana, Hoya rizalensis, Zehneria rizalensis, Aechynanthus rizalensis, Eugenia rizalensis, Grewia rizalensis, and Frullania rizalii.
The molave tree (Vitex parviflora), a native and endangered timber tree species, has also been observed in the PPL. According to San Pascual, the report submitted by the team to the PAMB will be useful for making policies to ensure that the molave trees are protected and judiciously used.
Meanwhile, a team of entomologists led by Dr. Ireneo L. Lit, Jr., the museum’s curator for mealybugs and other scale insects and other terrestrial arthropods, studied the arthropods found in three caves inside the PPL – Pamitinan Cave, Bat Cave, and Pugad Lawin Cave. Arthropods were collected using various traps and opportunistic methods. They also collected bat guano which are rich sources of minute arthropods.
According to Cristian Lucañas, UPLB MNH researcher, the team was able to document several species of arthropods which can only be found inside the dark recesses of caves. Some of these species were exclusively inhabiting guano deposits.
They were also able to observe arthropods which are considered as troglophiles or cave visitors (those which can live inside and outside caves) and trogloxenes (arthropods that may be found inside caves but do not necessarily habituate the area).
An interesting finding shared by Lucañas is the potential rediscovery of a cave-dwelling arthropod which was last reported more than a hundred years ago. “We are thrilled to have collected a species which was described way back in 1892 and has never been seen or documented again; it is really good to know that the species still exist today, and in the caves of the PPL,” said Lucañas.
List of terrestrial fauna in Pamitinan Cave bared by another study
The CAVES program was also able to report a preliminary list of vertebrate and invertebrate fauna which were observed by a separate team. The group is led by Julius Parcon, UPLB MNH researcher, and it conducted several observation and collection transects during fieldwork.
Terrestrial vertebrates like birds, bats, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles; and invertebrates such as mollusks have been recorded. Aside from using common sampling means, the group also employed newer methods such as bioacoustics to record calls of bats, birds, and amphibians.
During the group’s presentation to the PAMB, Renz Duco, a research associate, explained how the data they were able to collect can be used by the local government unit in monitoring species associated with the PPL’s caves.
The researchers also discussed with the PAMB their plans for hydrogeological investigations which will study how water enters, moves through, and exits the caves. The plan was welcomed by the members of the PAMB as the body would also want to know more about the quality and flow of water in the PPL’s caves.
Potentials of microbes from caves to be determined
The research team is now preparing to study the beneficial and harmful microorganisms which will be extracted from the gut of the collected bats, as well as from the guano produced by the bats.
With MNH Director Marian De Leon at the helm of the study, the CAVES program will be using the specialized equipment procured through the DOST funding. The program will also tap the expertise of partner agencies within and outside the country.
Continuing work to help address science gaps to aid regional development
The MNH’s CAVES team is continuing its endeavors across the CALABARZON through the support of the NICER program, a channel created by the DOST which enables it to provide research and development funding to higher education institutions among the regions. The MNH’s CAVES program is so far the only NICER center in CALABARZON, and it has been already been able to conduct several studies in three of the five provinces of the region.