After getting lost in the forest I become a bit obsessed with knowing my location and refining my navigation skills.
I spend quite time roaming the jungle, mapping the paths with my GPS, together with a safe reserve of water and a torch (because, as the forest reminded me, one never knows). I go back to the waterfalls and retrace my way through the research plots (that are indeed very close to camp, if only I knew). I even reach a burial site of the mysterious orang sungai, the “river people”: in a small cave are a few decorated pots and some coffins carved in ironwood, dating back to eight centuries ago.
Yet, the day immediately after my “lost in the forest” experience I am just too smashed to do any walking. Instead, I meet with some members of the scientific staff, interested in learning more about the ongoing science and conservation projects.
I have the chance to chat with Mike Bernardus. Bornean, self-taugth botanist, Mike is a sort of living legend of rainforest tree identification. When I see some dipterocarp seeds from Mike’s collection I finally realize the reason for the name of this tree family: dipterocarp literally means “two-winged seed”, and indeed the seeds have two or more flat appendices that help them glide away from the parent tree, colonizing new territories. Some lianas use the same strategy. Other trees use the opposite strategy, producing big, heavy, hard seeds. It’s the case of ironwood or of Lithocarpus (literally “rock seed”). I imagine these species rely on animals for dispersing their fruits, while leaving their inedible seeds intact. Between hornbills, squirrels, leaf monkeys, makak, gibbons, orangutans, wild boars, and elephants, there is no shortage of seed dispersers in Danum Valley.
I also meet Adrian, who coordinates the technical staff and gives me an overview of the projects running in the valley.
The wet season is a calm time for science in Danum, but when the research season is at its peak there can be more than 100 researchers working at a time. They investigate all sorts of aspects of the biology of the forest and its inhabitants, and Adrian quite honestly admits that he does not manage to keep track. Often they are PhD students staying only two or three years. At the same time there are long-term projects, such as “the 50 hectare plot” and The “Sabah Biodiversity Experiment”. As far as I could gather, the 50ha plot is a classic ecological study, set up in 1986 (soon after the reserve estabilishment) to monitor natural forest ecology dynamics on the long term.
The patch of primary forest that constitutes the reserve is surrounded by a broad buffer zone of logging concessions operating according to eco-wise standards, as well as reforestation programs. The Sabah Biodiversity Experiment (SBE) is located in one of these areas, and its main goal is to study the effects of forest rehabilitation on the functioning of the ecosystem.