2018 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: Monmouth College

Use of a Landscape Approach to Measure and Mitigate the Effects of Deforestation in Sumatra, Indonesia

Faculty Mentor: James S. Godde, Professor of Biology
Students: Jonathan Cunningham, Shane Herkert, Emma Johanns, and Kathryn Saulcy

We propose the use of a landscape approach to determine the effects of deforestation as well as provide solutions to deal with the alarming rate of forest loss in Sumatra. A landscape approach, broadly defined, means that one takes into account all the features of an area, including its physical, biological, and socioeconomic characteristics when attempting to understand it. Deforestation is a global issue, but in 2015 it was reported that, for the first time on record, Indonesia has surpassed Brazil in the overall rate of deforestation that is taking place in these countries. With 10% of the world’s area of rainforest, Indonesia ranks third among countries possessing this resource. Global innovation to mitigate forest loss in Indonesia is sorely overdue. This project will involve significant interaction and collaboration with the people
of Sumatra.

We are collaborating with Riau University, a mid-sized public university in the Sumatran province with the highest degree of deforestation (35% reduction since 1985). We have arranged for our group to stay in a village just outside the boundary of Bukit Batu forest for the duration of our proposed project, it is here that much of our interaction with the local populous will take place. We will not only be participating in homestays with local villagers and taking place in the daily routines of the village; our interactions with many of the residents will also be significant. Our Indonesian collaborator, Ahmad Muhammad in the Department of Biology at Riau U., has previously carried out a thorough recording of all the mammal and bird species to be found in Bukit Batu and has experience live-trapping at least eight of these species, a skill that he has promised to pass on to the American students in question. Other practical and professional skills that these students will acquire in the area of setting-up and carrying out field research include placing and monitoring camera traps, collecting animal hair samples, interviewing villagers concerning the wildlife they have encountered, and collecting terrestrial leeches that harbor blood samples. Determining the previous blood meal of captured leeches using molecular techniques can be used to identify the animals that inhabit the area in question. While most science majors at Monmouth College perform individual research projects as capstone experiences, the opportunity for these students to perform such projects in Southeast Asia should significantly contribute to their career and professional preparation by setting them apart from other applicants for jobs or for graduate school. Following a successful completion of our studies, the students will present their work at not only the annual ASIANetwork conference, but also at appropriate scientific conferences in addition.

Indonesia has over 17,000 islands, transport by boat was the norm, rather than the exception

Jonathan Cunningham

As an environment studies major, I had been exposed to some of the environmental issues in the U.S., but realized that I knew little about those that affected countries halfway around the globe, such as Indonesia. I think that my goal of becoming a conservation officer or park ranger will be positively impacted by knowing something of how other countries are practicing conservation. Collaborating with a biology professor from Indonesia showed me that not all people take the same approach to preserving biodiversity or to conservation. For me, our collaboration with the local branch of the World Wildlife Fund, WWF, was likely the most useful part of our trip in terms of my practical and professional skill development, as well as preparation for my future career. In Tesso Nilo National Park, we were housed in dormitories that are owned by the WWF and visited a greenhouse where indigenous plants are grown before being transplanted into the wild. Here, I was certainly in my element. Another activity that I participated in at Tesso Nilo was learning how to set up camera traps to detect the larger wildlife in the area. In relation to this, one of the highlights of the trip for me occurred a few nights later while we were staying at the Rimbang Baling National Park, once again in a facility owned by WWF. There, following a day collecting terrestrial leeches, a WWF team came through who were heading deep into the jungle to check camera traps for evidence of tigers. Rimbang Baling is one of the few conservation areas in Sumatra, which still show evidence of housing the Sumatran Tiger. This final year of my undergraduate career has been spent going over the data that we collected in Sumatra and comparing it to that which was collected on previous trips to Southeast Asia. Presenting our work at the ASIANetwork conference was rewarding in itself and enabled me to share my passion for conservation with many people outside of my academic field.

Our collaborator works at Riau University, we visited there and met many students

Shane Herket

Since the return from our research in Indonesia and the completion of our presentations I have had time to reflect on how my experience align with the SFF core ideas. While I am now much more aware of Asia as a whole, as well as some of the major issues taking place there, the global issue that was visually apparent in our travels was deforestation. Currently, Sumatra is undergoing rapid deforestation that is threatening to eradicate the unique ecosystems that are endemic to the region. This deforestation is being fueled by the demand for palm oil, which is extracted from palm oil trees. These trees require large amounts of land and water for each individual tree that only produces a small amount of oil. This has led the people of Indonesia to clear cut much of their native forests and replace them with endless plantations of palm oil trees. Resulting from this process is the ever-decreasing habitat for animal and plant species that only exist in the jungles of Indonesia. Included in this group are the Indonesian tiger, elephant, and rhino. All of these species are extremely endangered, and in the case of the rhinos are on the brink of extinction.

Another SFF core idea that was really brought home in my experiences in Indonesia was the interaction and collaboration with the people of Asia. Most of our contact as a group with Indonesian people took place as collaboration with the people from WWF (World Wildlife Fund), and our other guides. Conversing with our guides and some of the people in the villages that we traveled to gave us a unique look into the daily life of native people. We were able to hear stories about what life was like in areas before and after palm plantations dominated the landscape, along with people’s encounters with some of the endangered animals we were interested in. These interactions were extremely valuable in helping to understand what life is like for people that live in rural Indonesia. I feel that, throughout this research process, all of the SFF Core Ideas were incorporated into the experience. Through studying abroad, my eyes were opened to the global issues that affect other countries, specifically in Southeast Asia. Indonesia has a mass industry for palm oil, which is one of the leading forms of income for the poverty- ridden country. I saw a parallel between t he palm oil industry and that of the United States farmers who grow crops such as corn or beans. In Indonesia, much of the land and natural habitat for animals was destroyed and repurposed for the use of production of palm oil, and the palm trees were lined in perfect rows that went on for miles and miles. Similarly, in America, farming is an expansive industry and has stripped much of the Midwest’s natural prairie. I felt horrified to see the damage that the palm oil industry has done to the environment, but also realized I had been blind to the exact same thing occurring in my own country.

This is one of the typical meals that we enjoyed in the field

Emma Johanns

The research opportunity to study the biodiversity of Southeast Asia, provided by the SFF program, has changed my life. During the course of the research, we studied biodiversity of Sumatra, Indonesia, while also traveling to parts of Malaysia and Singapore. My team and I were submerged into the Asian culture, exploring the jungle while also taking residence in some welcoming villagers’ homes. With such a small team of undergraduates tasked with important research to do, my SFF team had to be reliant on one another. The experience abroad allowed me to grow closer to my team members and also build a stronger relationship with my professor and mentor, along with a foreign faculty member. I am so thankful for the opportunity that ASIANetwork provided me and my fellow team members. I learned a lot on my time abroad. Through the skills I gained and experiences made while researching in Southeast Asia, I feel that I am more prepared for the future and have a better understanding of what I want to do career wise. I have always wanted to go into the medical field but was not quite sure what specifically I wanted to practice. Being immersed into the Asian culture while performing research changed my perspective of the world and I realized how health around the world is impacted by so many different things and that not all people have access to quality health care. For this reason, I have decided to pursue a career in global public health in the hopes that I can make an impact in the lives of others and hopefully make a healthier world.

We started to familiarize ourselves with the flora of Southeast Asia in Singapore, at Gardens by the Bay

Brenna Lobb

This ASIANetwork trip really put into context what is going on in another part of the world besides the U.S. I had previously known that deforestation and over-production of palm oil had been destroying the biodiversity in Asia but I had no idea how bad it was until we drove to one of the local villages and the trip there was endless palm trees. It reminded me of the Midwest where you can drive for miles and only see cornfields. It was interesting that I had travelled almost 10,000 miles, halfway around the globe, to find an environmental problem that occurs right in my backyard- namely that an agricultural monoculture is widely grown in the area, leading to the detriment of biodiversity. It is a complicated problem and it is hard to blame the people of Sumatra for trying to make their living off of the land, especially after seeing that many people essentially work as subsistence farmers. Through our interactions with local groups, we got the opportunity to talk about current issues in their country and really get a sense of how small some of the issues in the U.S are compared to their country. Having the opportunity to travel to a different country and experience their living conditions, transportation, culture and traditions is a privilege that we take for granted in the U.S. Being able to apply my biology skills to a real-life problem was also a very wonderful experience. After 4 years of studying biology and chemistry, I had a lot of knowledge concerning the subject matters, but never was able to apply my skills to many real-world examples. Traveling to Sumatra allowed me to gain confidence in my abilities and made me realize I can apply the knowledge I have, instead of just spit out facts that I memorized by reading a textbook. I now have a greater understanding as a biology major of just how different the world is in terms of biodiversity and ecology.

We were excited to be able to interact with some of the rescued elephants at the national park where we worked