New frog species expected in Brunei

BRUNEI - Any new finds of unrecorded species of frogs made during the on-going wildlife study of Sungai Ingei Protection Forest will be included into the national inventory of amphibians, members of the scientific team said yesterday.

Speaking over the phone while on a research trip in Labi yesterday, tropical ecologist Dr Ulmar Grafe said that although they have yet to make any "unusual" frog discoveries within the first leg of the two-year Sg Ingei Faunal Biodiversity Survey, they anticipated such finds could be made in this final year of the study.

"The place is a mosaic of different kinds of habitats. As we go in more and more, maybe we will find more unusual species that we haven't got so far," Grafe said. "There might be several new species but we don't have any firm evidence for that yet."

The Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) lecturer said that the findings will be included into the national checklist of amphibians, which he said currently stands at some 83 species, about half of all amphibians found on Borneo.

"(From) all the species found on the third largest island in the world...in a small section just in Brunei, (we can find) maybe half of the species that we find in the (whole) island. That's significant (and) puts Brunei on the map, with respect to amphibians."

The majority of the species were documented in Belalong of Temburong District and in Teraja, also in Belait, said a UBD Masters student volunteer who has been assisting Grafe with the research on amphibians in Ingei.

Hanyrol Hanyzan Ahmadsah, a Masters in Biology by Research student, said that a "limited" number of species could be found in Ingei when compared to Belalong due to the former area's terrain. She said, in a separate interview yesterday, that Belalong had a hilly, steep terrain giving rise to a greater diversity of amphibian species whereas Ingei was flatter.

Nonetheless, she said Ingei could still yield a different set of species than that found elsewhere in Brunei, further backing the scientists' efforts to come up with enough scientific evidence to turn the 18,000-hectare protected forests of Sg Ingei into a wildlife sanctuary.

When asked if the frog team has made any interesting finds so far, Hanyrol said, "for me, everything is interesting".

She shared that she would search for frogs at night, assisted by two staff from the Museums Department, at a pond "the size of a house" located nearby the UBD-led project's basecamp, some seven hours upriver of the nearest village of Kg Melilas.

"Every night we go there, we find different species around the pond," she said.

Frogs are taken back to the camp as samples, where they are identified and kept to be later preserved in alcohol and added to the Ingei collection of amphibian samples.

"Sometimes species identification is not clear just by the morphology and genetics. Samples have to be taken and DNA has to be analysed (to confirm) the species," Grafe said.

The collection would help to signify Ingei's value as an area rich in biodiversity and will be "our contribution to the cause" of persuading authorities to further protect Ingei as a haven for wildlife.

The Standard Chartered Bank-funded Heart of Borneo project was carried out in stages, where the scientists camp out and do their study in Ingei for weeks at a time. The scientists are currently away from the project, but camera traps were left on suspected animal trails.