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  Andulau Peat Swamp Forest  
    ... abode of the fanged pitcher plant  
       
 
Introduction
 
  Unsustainable extraction of Shorea albida from Peat Swamp Forests.
 

The Andulau region straddles Brunei's administrative districts of Belait and Tutong. The area is known for its inland Peat Swamp Forests, dominated by Shorea albida, a species of dipterocarp know locally as "Alan". Towards the north coast of Brunei, adjacent to the highway which runs between Bandar Seri Begawan and Kuala Belait, the Alan forests are suffering severe degradation due to a variety of causes, and inland the forests in the hilly regions are being subjected to continuous, unsustainable logging.

Forestry

Shorea albida is a member of the Red Meranti group. It can grow up to 70 metres in height, and has a large, open, dome-shaped crown. The trunk is straight, the bark is deeply fissured, and the heart wood is a rich, orange-brown colour. 

 
Ecological devastation of the S. albida forest due to fire, logging, water extraction and sand mining.
 
 

Accumulations of peat derived from this species can reach up to 20 metres thick. The trees' height is greatest at the edge of these peat domes, where they are known as "Alan Batu" (batu = stone); however these forms tend to have a hollow heart. Nearer the centre of the peat domes tree height may only reach 40 metres, and these forms are called "Alan Bunga" (bunga = flower); the heart is not hollow and it is these trees which are targeted for timber. 

S. albida has been an important timber tree in Brunei for decades. After extraction, natural reforestation can occur in the Alan Bunga zones, but the Alan Batu tend not to regrow. There appears to be no effort at sustainable forestry of this species and there is no replanting. So these forests will continue to shrink in size.

Sand Mining

The main highway which crosses the flat, coastal plains cuts across areas where the sediments underlying the peat are mainly loose sand. Large areas of the Alan forests in this area have suffered severe environmental degradation caused by forest fires, timber extraction and sand mining.

The process of sand mining requires water to be pumped out in order to access the sand deposits. Water extraction also occurred during construction of the highway. Consequently the water table is being slowly lowered and this has long term implications for the survival of the peat swamp ecosystem and thus of S. albida itself. The amount of degradation to which the forests near Sungei Liang have been subjected amounts to total destruction of a fragile ecosystem. 

           
       
 

The varied forms and colours of the Fanged Pitcher Plant Nepenthes bicalcarata
 
- the ground pitcher (left) and the aerial pitcher (centre and right).
  
 

Associated Flora

A stroll into the Alan forests is well worthwhile to see the Fanged Pitcher-Plant (Nepenthes bicalcarata). The scientific name of this exotic species comes from the two, distinctive structures located on the underside of the lid, rather like the fangs of a viper.  

The pitchers vary in form and colour depending on their height from the forest floor. The ground pitchers are more orange in colour and possess a pair of 'wings' facing the stem, while the aerial pitchers are smoother in form, and generally green in colour. The pitcher can grow up to 20 cm in length and 15 cm in diameter. 

   

Fungi of the forest floor include the Bull's Eye Fungus Calostoma sp. (right).

 

As with some other pitcher plants, N. bicalcarata shares a close relationship with some ant species which live towards the base of the pitcher; the nature of this relationship is not well understood. 

The Alan forests are also a rich hunting ground for enthusiasts of tropical fungi. In particular, keep an eye open for the "Jelly Mushroom" which inhabits the forest floor - this has the appearance of rather glutinous raw eggs !