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Expedition Investigates Origin of Unique Species on Borneo

LEIDEN, The Netherlands, September 12, 2012 /PRNewswire/ --

From 10 to 25 September, 2012, forty researchers of the Malaysian nature conservation organisation Sabah Parks and Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands will go on an expedition to Borneo. At the summit of Mount Kinabalu on Borneo, thousands of species of plants and animals occur that live nowhere else in the world. The origins of these unique species are a mystery that the researchers aim to solve. Knowledge of the evolution in this rich environment is crucial to the protection of biodiversity, not only in Borneo but also in similar places elsewhere in the world.

Hotbed or Storehouse of Evolution

Is Mount Kinabalu a hotbed or a storehouse of evolution? Are the species on top of the mountain relicts of animals and plants that used to live in the lowlands and valleys? Or are they young, recent evolutionary offshoots from lowland species adapting to the colder climate at the top? This is the question that the team of biologists aims to answer for a great variety of organisms: from snails, fungi and carnivorous plants to jumping spiders, stalk-eyed flies and reptiles.

The researchers will start at the summit of Mount Kinabalu, where they will be looking for animals, plants and fungi that occur only here and nowhere else in the world. Then they will travel to the lower mountain ranges of the Crocker Range, where they expect to find related species. Chances are considerable that they will come across species that are new to science. Back home in Leiden, the high-throughput DNA analysis laboratory of Naturalis will be used to examine the DNA of the collected organisms. For each group of organisms, the question can then be answered whether the unique species at the mountain summit have evolved sooner or later than their relatives of the lowlands. Mid-2013, all this work will result in a joint scientific publication.

"It's the first time that such an extensive expedition will go to Borneo with evolution as their main focus," says expedition leader Menno Schilthuizen. "We are following in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace, who formulated a first version of the theory of evolution on Borneo."

International Cooperation

Schilthuizen is looking forward to cooperating with the Malaysian researchers. "We are honoured to be allowed to work on Mount Kinabalu, which has been a carefully protected nature reserve for years. Our colleagues of Sabah Parks have extensive knowledge of local species, their environment and the area's history. Naturalis has expertise in taxonomy and a modern DNA laboratory. Together, we can obtain good insight into the history of evolution on Borneo. This is not only important for the protection and the future of this unique natural area. It can also serve as an example for similar areas elsewhere in the world."


The preparations, the expedition itself, work in the DNA-lab and progress toward the publication can be followed step by step through the weblog on During the expedition, the daily blog will also appear on in Dutch and in English.


If you are interested in photo, film or audio material made in the field, please contact Astrid Kromhout.

Photographer Joris van Alphen will also make a photo report of the expedition. His images can be found on

Images and logos of Naturalis and the museum can be downloaded free of copyright for use in publications and print from

SOURCE Naturalis Biodiversity Center

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