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A Study of Plant Species Extinction in Singapore: Lessons for the Conservation of Tropical Biodiversity

I. M. Turner, H. T. W. Tan, Y. C. Wee, Ali Bin Ibrahim, P. T. Chew and R. T. Corlett
Conservation Biology
Vol. 8, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), pp. 705-712
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2386512
Page Count: 8
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A Study of Plant Species Extinction in Singapore: Lessons for the Conservation of Tropical Biodiversity
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Abstract

The native vascular plant flora of the Republic of Singapore has suffered the extinction of 594 out of a total 2277 species. These represent local, not global, species extinctions. Coastal habitats, including mangroves, have lost 39% of their species, while inland forests have last 29%. Epiphytic species (62% loss) appear particularly prone to extinction, which is reflected in a similar disposition exhibited by the Orchidaceae. Deforestation and disturbance have been the main cause of plant species extinction in Singapore. The rich mangrove epiphyte flora has been totally exterminated, and a number of tree species are reduced to populations of a few mature individuals. Many more species continue to survive than the species-area relationship would predict given the 99.8% loss of primary forest. This is interpreted as a result of the failure of equilibrium to be achieved yet in the remnant forest fragments, even after more than a century of isolation. Singapore's secondary forests appear to accrete plant diversity very slowly, even if contiguous with primary forest areas. We conclude that remnant fragments of primary tropical forest, even of very small size, can play a major role in the conservation of tropical biodiversity. The patterns of extinction observed in Singapore indicate that coastal and estuarine sites are in greatest demand for development and therefore must be given high priority for conservation despite their somewhat lower biodiversity. Epiphyte and orchid diversity appear to be very good indicators of the degree of disturbance suffered by a habitat in the humid tropics.

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