UBD center of plant research in the XIth Flora Malesiana Symposium 2019

Article submitted by Dr. Daniele Cicuzza, Assistant Professor, Environmental and Life Sciences Programme, Faculty of Science and Curator of UBD Botanical Research Center, University Brunei Darussalam.

Edited by Dr. Fairuzeta Ja’afar

For five days UBD has been the hub of botanical research in South East Asia. The 11th Flora Malesiana Symposium, jointly organised by the Environmental and Life Sciences Programme, Faculty of Science and the Institute for Biodiversity and Environmental Research (IBER), was hosted in Brunei Darussalam. The symposium was held for the first time in Borneo, with an extraordinary participation of botanists from around the world. The Flora Malesiana Foundation organizes a triannual symposium, where up-to-date results concerning the flora of the Malesia region, the horticulturalist aspects and its conservation status are presented. Flora Malesiana accounts for the diversity of plants over six countries in Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. The Foundation produces books, divided by plant families, with descriptions of all plant species occurring in the Malaesia region. Previously it has been hosted by European and Asian Institutions, with the previous conference being hosted at the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh (UK). UBD was the venue for the eleventh symposium.

Flora Malesiana 11 participants with the Guest of Honour of the Opening Ceremony of Flora Malesiana 11, YB Dato Seri Setia Hj Ali bin Apong, the Minister at the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism, Datin Dr Dayang Hajah Anita Binurul Zahrina binti Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Wijaya Dato Seri Setia Haji Awang Abdul Aziz, the Vice Chancellor of Universiti Brunei Darussalam, as well as the Senior Principal Officers of UBD.

Over three hundred participants from 23 countries attended the event. The event was officiated by the Guest of Honour, Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali Bin Apong, Minister of the Ministry of Primary Resources & Tourism. UBD’s Vice Chancellor, Yang Mulia Datin Dr Dayang Hajah Anita Binurul Zahrina binti POKLW Dato Setia Haji Awang Abdul Aziz opened the ceremony with her welcoming remarks and the session was chaired by Assistant Vice Chancellor of Research, Dr Abby Tan Chee Hong. The opening session was followed by Dr. Jun Wen with a talk on ‘Plant Systematics: A Century of Progress and Outlook for its Development in SE Asia’. At the start of each session during the five days, the opening speech was delivered by a series of keynote speakers comprised of five international scientists.

In the five days of conference, three parallel sessions were run with 181 oral presentations and 72 posters. Outside of the presentations, participants also had the opportunity to attend three workshops prior to and during the conference, as well as having the opportunity to visit UBD’s Botanical Research Centre (BRC) and the UBD Herbarium. Independent visits to the Brunei National Herbarium was also organised, with over sixty participants. The conference concluded with three post symposium excursions to Tasek Merimbun, Kuala Belalong Research Center (KBFSC) and the Pulau Selirong National Park. The symposium would not have been possible without support from UBD, IBER, KBFSC, Forestry Department, Heart of Borneo (HoB) and financial support from Flora Malesiana Foundation and Brunei Shell Petroleum.

The very few conferences on plant taxonomy, ecology and conservation conducted in South East Asia makes the Flora Malesiana Symposium a special event which many researchers from this region wished to participate in. The symposium provided botanists the opportunity to interact and establish new collaborations, learn new techniques and share their knowledge. Moreover, the new discovery and progress conducted since the last symposium was presented, showcasing new book publications, new discoveries in scientific journal articles, as well as ongoing research. The great advantage of this symposium was the possibility to attend talks where the results are part of ongoing research, and where results will soon be published, giving the participants a tangible idea of what is cutting edge and current research in plant taxonomic, ecological and conservation in South East Asia.

Prior to the symposium, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conducted a three-day workshop, assessing over seventy endangered dipterocarps species. These assessments are pivotal in the understanding the threat to important plant species distributed in Borneo. Furthermore, Dr. Max van Balgooy from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, The Netherlands, with the assistance of Dr. Susana Arias Guerrero, shared his extraordinary experience in plant identification with the use of key characters. The workshop proved to be popular, and had to be conducted twice in the same afternoon in order to accommodate the number of participants. This was a tremendous opportunity for young scientists to learn from the most experienced botanists how to recognize plant species from this region.

The UBD Lecture Hall was enriched by a fantastic art exposition from the Japanese artist Mieko Ishikawa with wonderful paintings of pitcher plants, orchids, the complex form of Lithocarpus seeds and other incredible plant species from the rich flora of Borneo.

Numerous participants were fascinated by Brunei’s forests, with many considering collaborations with UBD and IBER in order to conduct further research in the coming years. I believe that this was a great opportunity for UBD to present its facilities and develop collaboration with international institutions.

The success of this symposium cannot be achieved without considering and acknowledging the incredible dedication of the Research Assistants, Ms. Nurhazwani Sirun, Ms. Fauziah Haji Yahya, Ms. Siti Nur Aqilah Afizah Binti Mohd Alias, Assistant Lecturer Mr. Dennis Ting Teck Wah, the staff from the Botanical Research Center, Faculty of Science members, the UBD administration and all the fantastic volunteers who have made this symposium possible.