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  Value of Peatlands in Malaysia


Photo credit: NRE, Malaysia
 
Some of the important values of peatlands in the country are identified as follows:
 

a) Water Regulation

Peatlands in their natural state are water-logged due to a high water table and act as a large water reservoir, consequently playing an important role in water regulation. Important functions in this aspect are flood mitigation and water supply, which contributes to the environmental security of human populations and ecosystems in its surrounding areas.

 

b) Carbon Sequestration and Storage

Peatlands in the Southeast Asia play a role of global importance in storing an estimated 120 billion tonnes of carbon or approximately 5% of the global terrestrial carbon. Malaysia has the second largest extent of peatlands in Southeast Asia after Indonesia, most of which are still intact thus contributing to sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and acting as a store for large amounts of carbon.

 

c) Biodiversity

Peatlands in Malaysia support significant biological diversity. In Peninsular Malaysia, 132 tree species were recorded in an area of 5ha in the Bebar Forest Reserve in Pahang (Ibrahim, 1995) and 107 tree species have been recorded in the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest (Appanah et al., 1999). In Sarawak, according to Anderson (1963), 242 tree species were recorded in peatlands. Ibrahim (1995) stated that many of these species are endemic to this unique habitat – for example, 75% of the tree species found in peat swamp forest in Peninsular Malaysia are not found in other habitat types and some have a relatively restricted distribution.

Peat swamp forests are habitats or are part of the home range for rare and endangered mammals such as Malayan Tiger (Panthera tigris malayensis), Tapir (Tapirus indicus), Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) and Orang Utan (Pongo pygmaeus). Peat swamp forests also support a diverse bird community. Prentice and Aikanathan (1989) recorded 173 species of bird in the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest of which 145 were breeding residents. Birds present include endangered species such as hornbills and the Short Toed Coucal. Peatland rivers, also known as ‘black-water rivers’ are important aquatic habitats for fish. These rivers often have a higher degree of localised endemism for fish species compared to other rivers, and they are also an important source of aquarium fish. Ng et al. (1992) recorded more than 100 fish species in the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest. Approximately 50% of these are restricted to black-water rivers.

 
d) Socio-Economic Values

Peat swamp forests have been a source of timber and non-timber forest products. They are rich in high quality timber species such as Ramin (Gonystylus bancanus), Durian Paya (Durio carinatus) and a number of Shorea species. There are at least 120 timber species of commercial value and if harvested in a sustainable manner will continue to provide these resources for a very long period of time. Other non-timber plant products include rattan, asam kelubi, palm trees, Pandanus, scented wood trees species, medicinal plants, resin-producing trees and ornamental plants, for eg. wild ferns which are utilised and traded by local communities living around peatland areas.

Fish in peatland areas are important to the livelihood of local communities that live within or adjacent to peatlands. Surveys have shown that fish species are the main source of protein for local people and the indigenous communities living at Tasek Bera and the Southeast Pahang Peat Swamp Forest. Some local people sell these fish for a regular income (both edible and ornamental fish). Some of the fish species found here include the Giant Cat-fish (Wallago leerii), Blackwater Snakehead (Channa bankanensis), the peat swamp Barb (Puntius rhomboocellatus) and Chocolate Gouramy (Sphearichthys osphromenoides).
 
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