The Polillo islands support an incredible diversity of threatened and endemic wildlife, which is of tremendous importance both globally and locally (Box 1, Table 1). Virtually the entire island of Polillo has been deforested and of the few fragments remaining only two sites have any reasonable future security. The exceptional conservation value of Polillo's remnant forests has given rise to this collaborative project between students from the University of the Philippines at Los Banos (UPLB), Isabela State University (ISU), the Philippines, Oxford University, UK, and the Polillo Ecology Stewardship Programme (PESP), building upon work conducted by team members in 1999.

A joint student team from Oxford University and UPLB conducted fieldwork on Polillo between June and September 1999 in Sibulan watershed Reserve, the only known area of old growth forest on Polillo. Baseline information was collected on amphibians, bats, batflies, birds, lizards, Gray's monitor Varanus olivaceus and the water monitor Varanus salvator marmoratus (Hampson et al, 2000). The project aimed to facilitate conservation strategies and biological monitoring programmes on Polillo based on:

1) Conclusions generated from research focused on threatened and endemic taxa.

2) Provision of equipment for future monitoring and surveying.

3) Exchange of techniques among expedition members.

From July to December 2001 the project team attempted to determine the extent and distribution of remaining forest fragments in the Polillo Islands and conduct complimentary ecological surveys. In April and May 2002 the team returned to disseminate information relevant to specific communities concerning the importance of their forest and wildlife. This report summarises the results of those projects.

 

Box 1. Conservation Status of the Polillo Islands

The Philippines is one of the highest priority countries for conservation in the world (Oliver and Heaney 1997) due to its exceptionally high levels of diversity and endemism, and is among the top 5-biodiversity hotspot priorities (Conservation International 1999). High levels of deforestation throughout the Philippines have put much of the archipelago's fauna at risk. Luzon and its adjacent smaller islands, including the Polillo group, forms the Southern Luzon Faunal region (ICBP, 1992: Putting Biodiversity on the Map), one of the worlds highest priority regions for conservation concern in terms of both numbers of threatened endemic species represented and degrees of threat. The Polillos are the most distinct subcentre of endemicity within the faunal region; they harbour a unique but highly threatened fauna including endemic frogs, lizards and birds and several globally threatened keystone species with highly restricted distributions such as Gray's monitor lizard, the Philippine cockatoo, the Giant Golden-crowned flying fox, and the Philippine warty pig. The Polillos also form part of the Luzon Endemic Bird Area (EBA), which ranks sixth in the global critical list of EBAs (Bibby et al. 1992). The habitat of most importance for biodiversity conservation on Polillo is lowland dipterocarp forest (less than 6% of original vegetation remains in the Philippines of which only a small fraction is lowland forest). Surveys from the Polillo '99 project revealed that Sibulan watershed reserve consisted of a diverse community of endemic dipterocarps, including many typically only from primary undisturbed forest (Galley, 2000). Extensive encroachment of the islands' already highly fragmented lowland forests from local logging and agricultural practices, driven by social and economic factors, is the main threat to the islands unique biodiversity. Only the 200 hectare watershed reserve has any formal protection therefore potentially crucial forest patches are vulnerable to loss.

Table 1. Endangered status of selected species on Polillo.

CR: Critically Endangered, V: Vulnerable, T: threatened, NT: near threatened. All the vertebrates are listed in the Philippine Red data book and therefore considered national conservation priorities.

Species Status Source Threats (past/present)
49 tree species T Oldfield (2000) Deforestation, and restricted ranges
Cacatua haematuropygi, Philippine cockatoo CR Collar et al. (1999) Deforestation, hunting (pet trade), persecution as a crop pest.

Ceyx melanurus, Philippine forest kingfisher

V Collar et al. (1999) Strict lowland forest specialist: deforestation.
Anas luzonica, Philippine duck V Collar et al. (1999) Hunting and trapping (main cause), habitat loss
Ptilinopus merrilli, Cream bellied fruit dove NT Collar et al. (1999) Habitat destruction (mainly in primary and selectively logged forest up to 1100m), hunting
Gallicolumba luzonica, Luzon Bleeding Heart Pigeon NT Collar et al. (1999) Habitat destruction (lowland forest (<1400m), snaring for pet trade
Tanygnathus lucionensis hybridus, Polillo Blue Naped Parrot NT Collar et al. (1999) Hunting (pet trade) and habitat loss
Centropus unirufus, Rufous coucal NT Collar et al. (1999) Destruction of lowland forest
Platymantis polillensis, Polillo forest frog CR IUCN 2001 Review meeting Habitat loss
Varanus olivaceus, Gray’s monitor lizard T IUCN (WCSP, 1997) VU A1C Habitat loss, hunting.
Pteropus and Acerodon fruit bats   (Mickleburgh et al. 1992) Hunting and habitat loss

 

 

Polillo trogon, Polillo forest frog, Hipposideros coronatus, and Pseudogecko smaragdinus

AIMS

1.   Initiate and develop a 3-dimensional participatory land-use map for the entire Polillo Islands using local knowledge supported by GPS ground-truthing.

2.   Determine priority areas for conservation and implementation of protection measures for the unique and threatened biodiversity of Polillo, by mapping remaining forest fragments and conducting complimentary ecological surveys (trees, amphibians, bats, birds and Varanus olivaceus.

3.   Raise public awareness though an information campaign, stressing the unique nature of the Polillo islands' fauna and flora, and the need to (and benefits of) conserving this biodiversity.

4.   Assist in the initiation of a conservation education programme in schools throughout the Polillo Island group.

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