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TRCRC's efforts in conserving Dipterocarps

ROYAL BELUM STATE PARK IN PERAK, MALAYSIA—It has been a year of color and sex for the lowland rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia. This is a "mast year," when dozens of tree species produce bumper crops of flowers, fruits, and seeds simultaneously. Since April, the canopy has been a splendid mosaic of yellow, orange, and red set against green. It has been 5 years since the spectacle was last seen.

The unusual event is also a busy time for conservationists: a chance to collect seeds from endangered trees so species can be preserved. On a wet Saturday morning last month, 10 people walked through this park looking for seeds of the Dipterocarpaceae family, a group of more than 400 species that dominate many Southeast Asian rainforests. When one of the team's leaders, Mohd Burhanuddin bin Mat, noticed a towering tree, he chipped it with his machete and sniffed the exposed cream-colored wood. "Smells like young coconut juice," he said. He identified the tree as Shorea pauciflora, an endangered species. The entire team crouched around and started to pick up the fruit, easily recognizable by its long wings, and seeds. They stopped only to peel persistent leeches off their legs.

The group, mostly staffers from the Tropical Rainforest Conservation & Research Centre (TRCRC), where Mohd Burhanuddin manages a nursery, is building what it calls "living collections"—arks for endangered trees. It has already planted a 224-hectare collection in Sabah, a Malaysian state on Borneo; the next one, more than twice that size, will start here in Peninsular Malaysia. The plots will provide seeds for future reforestation projects, as well as opportunities for scientists to study the trees. TRCRC, headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, started with Dipterocarps because they are "the most critically endangered and most difficult to conserve," says Executive Director Dzaeman bin Dzulkifli David.

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Monday, November 11, 2019