Ecoregional Conservation Assessment of Sulawesi
Photos and movies can be found by clicking on each header for the locations
General notes from rapid field survey of Sulawesi (click on the header to go to the photo tour of that location)
The field survey occurred from July 21 to August 16, 2004. The main field team consisted of the author and John Harting but we were joined by Marcy Summers and Oyong at different points. Field teams were assembled at each location in coordination with the local forestry, parks and police departments. The staff and personnel in these offices were always helpful and friendly. Without their help, it would have been impossible to conduct this field survey. During this four week period, we managed to visit over fourteen protected areas, numerous other sites, and see a lot of territory. Logistics and travel consumed most of our time but the field survey was successful in allowing us to directly and simultaneously compare similar vegetation communities across the island, from Gunung Ambang in the north to Pulau Buton in the south, including direct comparisons between different soil types and seasonality of rainfall.
A main goal of the field survey was to visit a range of forest types across the entire geographical scale of the ecoregion. Emphasis was placed on locations where relatively little information was available. Comprehensive field surveys of the vegetation communities in Lore Lindu National Park were completed in 2001 and no plans were made to visit the area. Wildlife Conservation Society has performed numerous rapid field surveys and ecological studies across the island and most of these sites were visited only briefly. A majority of our time was spent in the Luwuk-Morowali and East Central bioregions.
No formal methods were used for data collection. During our first few surveys, we attempted to gather ‘real data’ but found that performing even the most cursory measurements limited the amount of area that we could cover. Because we often needed to climb quickly up mountains to cross elevational gradients, data collection was limited to snapping digital images of interesting plants, quickly surveying by eye, watching for ‘indicator’ species developed from previous classification work performed in Lore Lindu National Park. This survey was at times frustrating because we would just be reaching interesting forest and gaining some understanding of an area and it would be time to immediately turn back and catch the next bus. We spent at least twice as much time traveling as we did actually performing the field survey.
The following description follows the sequence of locations visited during this rapid survey. For most of the journey, John Harting and I traveled together. We were accompanied by Oyong from Palu for the second half of the trip. John and Oyong covered the journey from Faruhumpenai to Kendari, passing through the northern half of Southeast Sulawesi, while I traveled around the eastern margin of Teluk Bone, visiting several sites along the way, until I rejoined them in Kendari.
Mt. Ambang Nature Reserve
On the drive from Manado to Kotamobagu, we stopped briefly near the summit of Mt. Ambang at roughly 900 m elevation. The forest was heavily disturbed at lower elevations and largely converted into clove and palm plantations. After climbing upslope for a few hundred meters, relatively good and intact forest was encountered. The species composition was dominated by lowland species, particularly of the genus Aglaia in the family Meliaceae and several Myristicaceae or nutmeg species, despite the rather high elevation. A fairly large number of naturalized plantation individuals and common pioneer things was present, suggesting sustained exposure to the surrounding intensive agriculture has allowed the invasion of these ‘domestic’ plants. The understory was rich in gingers and orchids, probably due to the open forest nearby and the steep slopes. This site possesses rich volcanic soils which might explain the presence of lowland species at this high elevation. It also lies along a very steep gradient in rainfall which decreases rapidly north to south. This nature reserve represents an important ‘stepping-stone’ habitat between East and Central North Sulawesi.
Bogani-Nani Wartabone National Park
We entered the park from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s field station near Kotamobagu and climbed to about 1000 meters elevation.
The lowland forest was fairly heavily disturbed up to about 500 meters. Numerous felled trees of Koorsiodendron sp. (Anacardiaceae) were observed along the trail and a few ridgetops were basically deforested. Most taxa were typical of ‘lowland’ forest, with abundant Sapindaceae, Burseraceae, Anacardiaceae species and an overall diverse composition with few dominants. As we reached 900 meters elevation on a gently sloping ridge, the first signs of upland forest began to appear. As at Mt. Ambang, the elevational range of lowland forest seems to extend further upslope than on sites with poorer soils, potentially due to the rich volcanic nature of soils here. The upland forest (what was seen of it) appeared typical for this forest class across the island, with Castanopsis accuminatissima becoming dominant. A vast amount of the park remains largely unvisited and unstudied. This protected area contains the most significant contiguous patches of lowland and upland forests on rich soils on the island.
The interest in visiting this site was to examine forests on mafic soils but at a great geographic distance from the better known areas in Morowali. We traveled towards the base of Mt. Tampotika, hiking upriver along a rocky stream, which climbed gradually through lowland forest, which was occasionally fairly dense and diverse. Much of this forest had obviously been disturbed in the not too distant past. After camping out along the river, an attempt was made to reach a valley which reportedly contained old-growth forests of big stature. The hike led through a series of riverbeds, some dry, until a steep climb was made up to a sharp and narrow ridge. Species composition in this region occasionally went through rapid turnover. Some areas, particularly on steeper slopes, were composed almost completely of a small Annonaceae/Ebenaceae? tree, which grew quite densely and formed a low closed canopy. These trees were mixed with another common Fabaceae (Cynometra?) and Sterculiaceae (Pterocarpus) plant. These forests might represent advanced regeneration on poor mafic soils. In the riverbeds and alluvial sites, large trees could be found, particularly a high density of figs (Ficus), Artocarpus and other pioneer trees, like Anthocephalus. Some big individuals of Diospyros.
Our guide became lost after reaching this ridgetop, which was only at an elevation of 350 meters, but because of the poor nutrient status of the soils and the exposure of the ridge, upland species were already abundant, including Dacrydium, Heritiera, Acer, and various species of Lauraceae. Generally, a very dense understory of small trees were present. An abundant parasitic plant of Balanophora cf. fungosa was flowering at the time of our visit. A Melanorrhea was fruiting as well, nice tree.
The drive to the area was quite interesting. It provided an excellent view of the mountain and the rather stunted nature of the mafic forests was apparent. Additionally, steep gradients in precipitation were apparent as well. Several areas were known to be seasonally dry and prone to fire. On mafic soils, these would often have poor regeneration and a sparse grass/sedge community would persist.
Lombuyan II Game Reserve
This small protected area at the base of the mushroom in the Luwuk-Morowali bioregion contained some beautiful lowland and upland forests on fairly rich limestone soils. From the remote sensing analysis, this protected area is the eastern tip of a much larger piece of G2G forest. It serves as an important watershed to the surrounding villages, like Salodik, and many of the local people use the forests for harvesting various important products. Convincing the local communities that these forests are important seems simple and direct.
The topography was rather sharp and a large number of limestone outcrops and boulders were encountered during the climb to the top. At the mountain pass at roughly 1000 m elevation, we were shown the entrance to a large cave which descended directly between two peaks. The upland limestone forests in this area, on relatively pure limestone soils, were well-structured and diverse. They were reminiscent of the uplands in Lore Lindu, although the understory may have been more densely vegetated by palms and shrubs. A healthy population of terrestrial orchids were observed (I have asked someone the name but no reply yet). The composition of trees was slightly unusual, indicative of a wettish climate, with lots of Annonaceae and Loganaceae trees. The most notable difference from other upland forests was the complete absence of Castanopsis acuminatissima. The list of generic occurrences includes: Vitex, Artocarpus, Elmerillia, Bischofia, Sloanea, Nauclea, Heriteria, Albizzia, unknown Viscaceae, Lithocarpus, Ascarina, Psychotria, Xylopia, Pigafetta, Arenga, Tabernaemontana, Horsfieldia, and numerous species of Eugenia, Litsea, Sapotaceae, Meliaceae, Rubiaceae, Euphorbiaceae.
Boat ride down the southern coast of Luwuk-Morowali to Kolonodale
After departing Luwuk at 3 AM and driving as far down the coast towards Kolonadale as possible, we hired a small boat to take us to Baturube to catch a boat to Kolonodale. Still early morning, we had an excellent trip and given the good weather, much of the inland forests were visible. The extremely sharp topography of the limestone mountains in the interior of the eastern arm were quite spectacular and appeared to be consistently covered in forest, with few obvious signs of human disturbance.
Upon arriving at Kolonodale, we arranged a meeting with the NGO Sehabat Morowali, led by Jabar. He is a very knowledgeable and helpful person, although somewhat dispirited because of the steady decline in the resources and support for his group and the general lack of real commitment from outside groups. He mentioned that one of the best maleo nesting sites he had ever visited was just down the eastern coast, in a region called Worsu, but was being threatened by logging and general conversion. During these discussions, we accepted his suggestion that we visit a large wetland area to the west of Kolonodale, which he felt was important habitat for migratory birds. These wetlands also fringed a small limestone mountain range which also contained forest.
We traveled to a small village, where we boarded a small outboard boat to travel upstream into the wetland area. On the drive to the village and during the boat trip, prominent limestone hills were visible throughout the journey. These hills were generally heavily disturbed but scattered patches of beautiful forest were also apparent. Some of the swampy area has been converted to padi but they have not been able to control the floods, so the cultivation has not been very intensive yet. A large open wetland area, with lots of floating water lilies and a diverse set of water fowl, led into a smaller stream. Very large and fantastic banyan figs arched over the river in several places, creating a wonderful network of stilt roots. As we entered forest with a more closed canopy, we came upon an area where sago palms were being harvested and processed. These were apparently being worked by the local Mari people, who ate sago. We climbed up until the limestone hills to a small pondok near the ridge summit. Most of this forest was heavily disturbed and converted into upland rice and vegetable gardens. We hiked back into the forest to visit a cave just over the ridge. The forest on the ridgetops was in quite good condition and contained a rich diversity of tree species, much like that seen at Lombuyan. Overall, the wetlands do provide a critical and unique resource and are under threat of general conversion into intensive agriculture.
In order to visit the Morowali protected area, we chose to enter through the western margin, after traveling upstream from the coastal villages of Tambioli and the transmigration site of Sumara Jaya. Most previous visits and survey work had been performed near the alluvial soils on the southern part of protected area and adequate descriptions of these areas are already available from other sources. Two small lakes are also present in this alluvial area and we felt that this would be similar to the wetlands visited in Sampolo. Coming in from the western margin and hiking into some of the smaller Wana villages in the uplands seemed like an interesting strategy, particularly as it would take us across a mixture of limestone and mafic derived soils at different elevations. This would allow an interesting comparison with the forests in Lombuyan.
The boat across to Tambioli from Kolonodale took a long time to arrange and depart and the pilot seemed a little bit slow to leave. The trip into the inlet provided a spectacular view of the surrounding hills, most of which were still thickly forested, although most of it was rather stunted and open with Casuarina trees quite common at low elevations. The mountains on either side of the bay (Teluk Towori?) were heavily forested, up into the inlet. A very nice and relatively undisturbed patch of mangrove was present in the inlet to Tambiyoli. The Nipa palms here are noticeably smaller and obviously a different species than those on Borneo.
We were led into the Morowali protected area by Pak Hadi from Sumara Jaya. He is locally in charge of managing and protecting a local maleo nesting site and maintains a station in the area. He expressed a certain amount of bitterness about the lack of support and interest he had received from outside organizations, particularly international ones. He was also an experienced trader with the Wana people who live inside of the Morowali forest. He could speak their language and also lead us on a tour. We began by hiking upstream of a very large and beautiful river, flowing out of a strongly mafic area. The alluvium was obviously derived from a loose conglomerate of pebbles and big rocks. The forests were quite stunted and open, containing a mixture of high montane and sandy soil species, like Casuarina, Agathis, and several genera of the Myrtaceae and Theaceae families. Turning rapidly upslope, forests remained very stunted and comprised of several unusual and endemic species, like a Helicia (in the Proteaceae family, one of the plant groups invading Sulawesi from the east) and Metrosideros (again, an invader from the east). A strange species of Gesneriaceae was also common (photos of the plant but without flowers are available on the webtour). It had a growth form like high montane plants on arid soils. These plants were all well below 400 meters elevation.
Once the top of the first ridge was reached, we emerged onto a fairly long plateau, where soils were obviously much deeper and more mixed, presumably with limestone derived soils. The common tree Castanopsis accuminatissima was very abundant, although many individuals did not exhibit the multiple-stem growth form that it possesses on almost every other part of the island. These normally upland trees were also present at a much lower elevation (possibly a new species?) and another common species of Santiria (Burseraceae) in this elevation range (400-700m) is normally a lowland species.
One of the biggest differences about this forest is the relative absence of figs, particularly large strangling figs. These trees are common in almost all other locations on the island, especially those with a history of disturbance. This absence of figs may indicate that these forests have experienced very little large scale disturbance in the recent past. A characteristic species of tree, which I was unable to identify, was a good indicator of richer, deeper soils (it was possibly an Olacaceae or even Hopea??? – no reproductive material and never really took the time to investigate). Myrtaceae was diverse as always and numerous individuals of Sapotaceae were present.
As we neared the first Wana village, the soil began to change in texture and color, obviously possessing rich organic matter. We passed through a series of fallow regions, containing the usual pioneer species on the island (Dendronide, the Urticaceae present throughout the island). Proceeding over this area, it became obvious that the soils were having a large impact on the forest composition and that transitions between more mafic soils and more limestone soils could be detected by species composition alone. On limestone soils, a richer and more representative group of lowland and some upland species were present, like Anacardiaceae (several genera), Dysoxylum, Litsea. Things very similar in composition to those in Lembuyan. Lots more Pigafetta in limestone areas.
Walk to second Wana village passed through areas primarily like limestone lowland/upland mixed forests. Most of the time we were around 700 m elevation. Still no figs.
Road trip from Kolonodale to Nuha (northern shore of Danau Matano)
The road trip between Kolonodale and Nuha passed through large plantations of rubber trees initially but then emerged into a more open and dry landscape which seemed to serve largely as pasture land, although the density of stock was quite low. These soils are mostly mafic and therefore are probably not very productive. The hills in the distance, both to the east and west, were generally well covered in forest, although it was impossible to determine anything about the composition of these forests. They did appear to be fairly low in stature, which would be appropriate for forests on mafic soils.
Because of the excellent network of roads connecting Soroako to the southwestern arm of the island and the fact that we had to obtain permits and letters from local government offices to visit any protected areas in the region, we hired a vehicle for two days to make the necessary office visits but to also simply drive around and cover as much territory as possible. Much of this region to the west of Soroako has been completely converted except for some hills which are still forested. Casuarina was once again quite common, indicating that the soils are mafic in nature but occasionally patches of hill forest would look quite well-structured and diverse.
While visiting offices, we were referred to the proper officials from whom we could obtain permits to enter the Faruhumpenai protected area. In discussions with these officials, a number of potential illegal logging and dumping activities were pointed out to the east of Soroako, particularly on the western shore of Danau Towuti.
This large park is adjacent to the main road running south out of the Poso region and connecting it to the southwest. A fairly large amount of traffic moves down this highway and the areas outside of the protected area have been almost completely converted. A large mountain to the west of the cagar alam is almost completely covered in forest, because of its extremely steep slopes. We traveled up to around 900 m by car initially before entering the eastern edge, on mixed well-drained soils. The forest was in surprisingly good condition after hiking inside for a few hundred meters. A representative mix of species were present, given the elevation and soils, lots of Castanopsis, Eugenia, the big-leafed Lithocarpus, Phyllocladus, Ternstroemia, Magnolia, etc, with some mixture of Knemas and Myristica.
The next stopping point was at roughly 600 m elevation and we hiked up a small stream. More signs of slight disturbance were present but the forest was representative of mixed lowland upland species. Lots and lots of big figs, suggesting relatively recent conversion and heavy fragmentation. The third stopping point (roughly 300 meters) was moderately disturbed lowland forest, lots of weedy species present. Castanopsis was present at both of these lower sites, not sure why.
The following day, we traveled to the southern edge of the Cagar Alam to enter the swamp forest. An actively growing village is found on this margin of the park, with a large number of relatively newly established chocolate plantations. Getting into boats and traveling upriver, swamp forest is fairly quickly reached. In general, this swamp forest is very dense and dominated by a relatively few number of species – one notable Elaeocarpus was quite frequent, as well as a Horsfieldia, Polyalthia. Some Nepenthes were present although not abundant. These intact patches of swamp forest were rather isolated and small while much of the area has been completely converted. Apparently the local people keep some areas free of trees because they can fish very effectively when the water is high. This swamp forest seems to be the only intact and diverse forest of its type on the entire island and should be rated quite highly on any list of priority areas.
The bus ride from Mangkutana, which served as our base for several days while exploring Faruhumpenai, to Palopo passed through intensive agricultural lands near the coast but good views of the more remote and jagged mountains to the distant north gave convincing evidence that very good and intact forests are found on this central mountain range, just above the alluvial plains on the northern end of Teluk Bone. While in Palopo, tried to arrange a trip down to Gunung Latimojong but discovered that the local office in charge of this area is in the western city of Polewali. I decided instead to make an attempt to travel into the intact upland and montane forests to the west of Makale and Rantepao. The bus ride up to Makale passed through several areas of pine and clove plantations but also large and intact upland forests, heavily dominated by Castanopsis. The Castanopsis trees were all flowering in this region at this time (early August 2004), a phenomenon that became generally apparent across the southeastern part of the island as well.
Up into highlands of Tana Toraja proper, the forests have almost completely been converted to intensive agriculture and plantation forestry. A hired car drove me far up until the hills, from where the distant limestone formations could be seen. The surrounding areas were almost completely denuded of forests. The forests visible on the satellite images would have still been two days journey to the west and further north, beyond the reach of the roads. The rich cultural heritage and carefully tended upland padi fields of the Torajans was very impressive.
With the great assistance of Nenny Babo, the karst limestone formations in the Karaenta protected area were visited. These impressive formations rise suddenly out of the flat alluvial plains surrounding Ujung Pandang. The hills are quite jagged in their formations and deep divisions between the flat-topped hills are visible as we begin to drive up into the higher elevations. Most of the vegetation appears to be secondary, stunted and quite open. The pristine communities are very similar to these secondary communities and knowing the degree of disturbance is much more difficult on karst formations. We obtained a guide in a small village inside the cagar alam. This man is capable of “calling the macaques” with a little help from a tasty reward. A fairly large group of macaques soon appeared. These animals looked quite healthy and quite a few females were carrying infants.
Overall, the forests here appear typical of karst forests – low levels of diversity, open structure, abundant pioneer and weedy species. These forests are quite fragile and the soils erode quickly once exposed. Their unique qualities and potentially high number of endemic taxa make these forests interesting.
This National Park is quite an interesting juxtaposition of habitats, with the open, frequently burnt grasslands on the heavy mafic soils in the area just south of a small range of hills, which border a large wetland area (which previously supported a peat swamp forest). This is probably the most heavily managed National Park I have ever visited. A large number of fires were burning during our visit. The area is used widely for hunting wild game. There are narrow gallery forests crossing the grasslands. Whether or not these vegetation communities are historical or recent products of human activity is unclear.
The hills just north of the grassland are covered with forests, which is obviously very seasonal and verges on being a monsoon forest but this element is also caused by the heavy mafic soils and the great heterogeneity in the distribution of nutrients and properties. These forests are fairly diverse, with abundant Metrosideros individuals. A legume shrub with a single leaflet was quite common. The two genera, Vitex and Glochidion, were abundant as well. Both of these are weedy plant groups, common to disturbed landscapes. An Anacardiaceae was also abundant upslope. Tabernaemontana (Apocynaceae) was a common small tree in the forest proper.
The ‘peat swamp’ forest in the northern part of the park has been completely converted into a large wetland, probably because of a past fire during a drought. Forest cover has been completely removed from most of the area. There is potentially a small fringe of forest on the southwestern margin of the swamp area but we were unable to reach it.
The wetlands are heavy in organic matter, as they are sitting on top of a large peat deposit, and the waters are black and acidic. Vast populations of lotus (Nelumbo), water lilies (Nymphaea), and menyanths (Menyanthes) grow intermixed with sedges, providing excellent waterfowl and aquatic wildlife. After returning to the park station, we were taken around to the northern margin of the park and hiked into some heavily disturbed lowland forests. The structure and composition of these forests strongly indicated continued low levels of disturbance. While hiking into the park with two park rangers (jaga wana), a large group of men hauling freshly harvested rattan emerged from the forest. The jaga wana did nothing.
The boat trip from Kendari to Maligano on Buton Island rounded the southeastern tip of the island, allowing a close inspection of the Peropa protected area. The forest on these coastal hills looked in excellent condition and Castanopsis was flowering heavily across the hills. It was obviously the dominant taxa of tree in these low elevation forests. The aspect of the hills, exposed and seasonal, are perfect for Castanopsis. The narrow separation between Peropa and the northern end of Buton, both of which are well-forested, should not be a major biogeographic barrier to management of the two as a single unit. During my flight to Kendari, a young man described a large island off the coast of Kendari, to the east, which was completely covered by forest, this was probably Wawoni. These forests are in slightly worse condition than the other two areas. The composite area of these three forests are quite impressive.
A fairly large mangrove fringes the western coast of Buton island, although the forest behind the fringe has almost entirely been converted. This mangrove forest is typical for the region. The small species of Nipa palm noticed in the inlet to Tambiyoli, near Morowali, was present here as well. Given enough time, it would have been quite interesting to visit the small bay on the northeastern side of the island where a large mangrove forests appears to still be intact. The center of the island rises sharply along a limestone ridge while the northern end has a more gentle plateau of more mixed soils.
In the lower elevations of the northern protected area, a large, diverse forest is present. This forest appears to be sheltered and supplied with abundant groundwater. A large number of tall big trees are found here and the overall diversity approached the upper end observed across the island. The upper elevation forests (600-900 m elevation) on the northern end of Buton island were similar in structure and composition to the hill forests on the southeastern margin of the Lore Lindu national park. Because of increased seasonality of rainfall and the apparent lowering of elevational boundaries of upland forest, many upland species, like Castanopsis, Podocarpus, Tristania, and Calophyllum. Overall, these forests have experienced relatively limited amounts of disturbance and represent a valuable natural resource.