Wallace 2013 opens avenues for further biodiversity and ecological study
KUCHING: The Second International Conference on Alfred Russel Wallace: His Predecessor and Successor was launched at the Riverside Majestic Hotel yesterday.
Jointly organised by Unimas’ Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation (IBEC), Department of Sarawak Museum and Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC), and supported by Sarawak Convention Bureau (SCB), the two-day conference aims to bring together historians, natural scientists, ecologists, zoologists, botanists, palaeontologists, anthropologists, geologists, park managers, and other scholars of natural sciences to share their experiences on ecology, evolutions and resource management of the region.
Alfred Russel Wallace, an English naturalist, was responsible for connecting Sarawak to the world in 1855 when he wrote his first major paper on evolution titled “On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species” which later became known as “The Sarawak Law”.
His unprecedented ideas in biological diversity and organic evolution were formed while he was in Sarawak exactly 158 years ago.
The biogeographical ideas originated by Wallace were topical to modern science and relevant to policy makers concerned with conservation.
Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud emphasised in his speech, read by minister in the Chief Minister’s Office (Special Functions) Tan Sri Datuk Amar Adenan Satem, that Sarawak was committed to conserving the state’s biodiversity for knowledge and posterity.
External adviser to the conference Dato Sri Gathorne, Earl of Cranbrook, had proposed that this conference also worked towards a complete collection of digital images of the type of specimens of animals discovered by Wallace in Sarawak.
“I recognised that the initial expense will not be small. However, I am certain that the institutions in the United Kingdom (UK) that hold the originals will be willing to find means to share the costs of digitisation,” he stressed in his request for the Sarawak government to make serious consideration on this matter.
“Modern multi-aspect photographic technology can provide high quality information needed by the taxonomist,” he said.
The location of this resource, he added, would probably be well placed at the Sarawak Museum, where it would be accessible by researchers and teachers at further and higher educational institutions of the state, as well as national and foreign visiting scientists.
“It will also be a permanent and invaluable resource in applied fields such as agriculture, forestry and wood processing, or medical and veterinary research into potential vectors,” he said.
This digital record, he pointed out, would be a fitting memorial for Wallace’s unremitting diligence as a field collector in Sarawak, his first island destination and the place where he made some of his important discoveries.
Meanwhile, Unimas vice-chancellor Dato’ Dr Mohamad Kadim Suadi said Unimas was well positioned to continue where Wallace left.
“We took advantage of our location in this biodiversity rich state and resolve to establish ourselves as the leading institution to educate the public, train human resource and conduct research in biodoversity, biogeography and speciation,” he elaborated.
In its effort, Dr Kadim said they had established the Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation (IBEC) and the Faculty of Resource Science and Technology (FRST) as founding faculties in 1993.
“The focus of research at IBEC and FRST is on biodiversity, environment, ecology, biogeography, evolution, speciation, and conservation – disciplines which early development can be attributed to Wallace,” he added.
The Wallace 2013 is the second international event in Sarawak to honour the remarkable contribution of Alfred Russel Wallace to science, biodiversity conservation and humanity.
The first event was held in 2005 to celebrate 158 years of his explorations in Sarawak.
About 80 delegates representing Australia, Brunei, Germany, USA, UK, Switzerland, Singapore, Japan, the Philippines, India, Thailand and Pakistan joined the conference.
A total of 55 papers will be presented covering topics such as Wallace & Biogeography, Herpetology, Biology of Birds & Mammals, Plant Science & Ecology, Phylogenetics & Biodiversity, Invertebrate Biology, Aquatic Biodiversity, and Conservation & Sustainable Management.
In conjunction with the conference, an official tour to Gunung Serambu, a Wallace collection locality, will be held tomorrow.
In addition, an expedition to Mount Santubong where Wallace collected and wrote his monumental paper, now referred as “Sarawak Law”, will be organised between now and Nov 18.