As I have mentioned before, Nick and I have been planning a reforestation project at Sabangau. We’ve been doing a lot of planning lately and are finally ready to start planting seedlings this week.
About 50 years ago- according to the people who live in Kereng- there was a massive fire at Sabangau that created the forest edge that we see today. The burned area left behind is now overgrown with some small shrubby trees, sedge and pitcher plants, and a lot of thick, very tall grass. Conditions in this area are harsh; during the wet season everything is flooded and during the dry season plants are subject to scorching heat and direct sunlight. We’re interested in testing a number of different species, most of which are pioneer species but a couple of which are more interior forest species that we just happen to have on hand and ready for planting, to see which species can survive in this habitat. If there are one or two that really take to it, then in the future these would be used in a much larger-scale replanting project that would hopefully help restore some of the burned area to forest. Smaller-scale projects like this have been done at Sabangau in the past but this time we are going to cover a much bigger area, use more seedling species, and plant a larger sample size of each species.
The plan is to plant 225 seedlings on each of 6 transects. The first transect is 50 meters from the forest, and the furthest 300 meters. We’re planting 30 seedlings of each of 7 species on each transect, as well as 15 seedlings of a control species that naturally grows out in the burned area anyway. These seedlings will be monitored over the coming months and years to collect data on mortality and growth rates. This is a really exciting project, both from a nerdy experimental “we want to see what happens when we do this” point of view, as well as from an on-the-ground conservation point of view. If we can, in the future, restore some of the forest in Sabangau, the methods will be applicable to other places in the surrounding area.
This project is our focus for the upcoming week, and it’s going to be a lot of work! We will probably have to carry seedlings out in the very early (aka when the sky is still dark) morning so that planting can start as soon as the sun rises. We have to start early because otherwise it just gets too hot to work; between the hours of about 10 am and 2 pm working conditions just aren’t safe out in the burned area. But, hopefully we can get all 1,350 seedlings planted in the next 5-6 days… sleep deprivation be damned! I always say that I would much rather study trees because you don’t have to wake up super early to go find them in the forest like you do primates, but I guess this week all of camp will be waking up early for work! Wish us luck…